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5.9.08 Issue #322 Forward This Newsletter To A Colleague

Angie Stone RDH, BS
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Are Your Instruments Working for You or Are You Working for Them?

 When it comes to considering options for increasing revenue in the hygiene department, the first options that come to mind are daily openings in the hygiene schedule and the lack of periodontal procedures being performed. Addressing these issues can help increase hygiene revenue, true, but there are other, less obvious ways to achieve an increase.

One way that is constantly overlooked is that of instruments. Many hygienists are using less-than-ideal instruments. It may be because they have had the instruments since they were in hygiene school or that they were already in the operatory when they began to work in the office and are used to them. Hygienists can do what they need to do with them and are resistant to trying something new because they are comfortable with the old ones much like they are comfortable in a pair of old slippers. They don’t realize the blades are not sharp anymore or that the blade is dangerously thin from years of sharpening—until they see what a new instrument blade looks like. Worn out instruments cost practices money and they have no place in hygiene treatment protocol.

Consider the benefits of high quality, sharp instruments:

  • increased productivity
  • increased efficiency
  • improved ease of deposit removal
  • increased patient comfort
  • decreased time in the chair for patient
  • decreased operator hand and wrist injury
  • decreased incidence of sharps events

Instruments can directly and indirectly affect productivity in various ways. The most direct and measurable way is related to sharpening. It takes time to keep scalers and curettes sharp and ready to face clinical challenges. During the average hygiene day, eight patients are seen and the hygienist has the luxury of having a total of eight instrument set ups. A typical prophy kit contains three to four instruments that require sharpening. That gives the hygienist approximately thirty-two instruments to keep sharp. If the hygienist works four days a week, the instruments need to be sharpened at least once a week to keep their edge, due to constant use and repeated sterilization.

Sharpening thirty-two instruments once a week takes approximately one hour. This is one hour each week, per hygienist. The hygienist is being paid during these hours and is not bringing in any revenue. Multiply the average charge of a hygiene visit by the number of hours spent sharpening per year. Then, add the amount paid to the hygienist for all the hours spent sharpening. The amount might be staggering!

This lost revenue can be recovered due to recent advances in metallurgy and material coatings. These advances translate into scaling instruments that remain sharp over a prolonged period of time. One such technology, XP technology, is being utilized by American Eagle Instruments, Inc. XP technology produces a razor-sharp edge that starts sharp and stays sharp longer than any other stainless or carbon steel curette available on the market. The Perio Power Pack from American Eagle is the technology offered through McKenzie Management, and it can change the way hygienists view their instruments. After examining the numbers, it is obvious instruments designed to stay sharp longer are much more cost-effective than those of traditional design.

Not only can hygiene productivity be increased with the use of adequate instruments, patient and operator comfort can also be improved. A dull instrument requires the hygienist to use extra pressure during instrumentation and perform more strokes to achieve deposit removal, which produces hand and wrist fatigue. An instrument that is always razor sharp involves applying only a slight amount of lateral pressure to lightly scale away deposits with minimal working strokes. Hygienists should alternate using instruments with different handle sizes to reduce the prolonged pressure exerted on specific muscles throughout the appointment time. Instruments should not be gripped tightly unless the hygienist is removing hard deposits. Exploring, probing and light scaling require a light stroke. This method provides superior tactile sensitivity during assessment type strokes and allows the muscles in the fingers, hand and wrist to rest between the working strokes required for hard deposit removal. Due to the risk of repetitive stress injuries, clinicians should be drawn to instruments utilizing technology that requires fewer strokes to get the job done.

Dull instruments with misshapen blades can cause patient discomfort in various ways. First and foremost, the use of dull instruments can increase trauma to gingival tissues, which has a direct correlation to patient discomfort. Dull instruments require repeated scaling strokes, which can result in increased tooth sensitivity due to the removal of cementum. As cementum is removed, dentin is uncovered and the dentinal tubules become exposed to stimuli, resulting in sensitivity to instrumentation, cold items in the mouth and, potentially, sugary foods (to name a few). Sharp instruments that require fewer working strokes to remove hard deposits preserve cementum and therefore reduce sensitivity. The use of effective instruments reduces time a patient spends in the chair, which is viewed as a positive for patients as well as dental teams.

Furthermore, the sharpening of contaminated instruments chairside increases the risk of operator injury. There are reports of clinicians being poked or cut by non-sterile instruments when sharpening during appointments. Instrument pokes result in loss of revenue due to clinician down time and potential medical bills. There is also an inconvenience on the part of the patient if they need to be tested for possible communicable diseases. In order to eliminate such injuries, scalers and curettes should not be sharpened chairside. Necessary sharpening procedures should be accomplished only after sterilization. The need for chairside sharpening can be reduced by utilizing instruments with new technology such as American Eagle’s XP technology, which virtually eliminates the need for sharpening. This issue can also be addressed by having several sharp instruments on the instrument tray set up.

Clinical dental hygiene is hard work, both mentally and physically. The thoughts of the hygienist should be free to focus on the patient in the chair, not on whether instruments are sharp, or the blades strong enough to not break during scaling, or the pain in their hand from scaling with dull instruments.

Time is money. Valuable time should be spent with patients providing education and high quality oral care, not sharpening instruments. In this day and age, we have the technology available to virtually eliminate any time spent sharpening.

Find out more about the Perio Power Instrument Pack—Go Here

Interested in knowing more about how to improve your hygiene department?

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