Decon Pete – handpiece care and maintenance

Understanding dental handpiece maintenance, care and cleaning is crucial. This month, Decon Pete gives a step-by-step guide for the correct cleaning and sterilisation process and explains why it’s so important.

Dental handpieces are a huge investment for any practice, so it’s incredibly important that we understand how to maintain and care for them correctly in accordance with the manufacturers.

The handpiece could be classed as a non-invasive instrument due to its minimum contact with the oral cavity. But this doesn’t negate the possible transfer risks from patient to patient.

Due to the high rotational speeds produced by modern turbines, the head, with the aid of the bur, creates a vortex. This, in turn, sucks up saliva, blood and dentinal chippings into the inner workings of the hand piece.

If the instruments are then not processed correctly, these potential hazards remain inside. As a result, this can not only pose a risk to future patients, but also damage to the internals of the handpiece, particularly the turbine head.

To give you some context around the rotational speed created by turbine handpieces, a typical car has an engine idle speed of around 1000rpm, a jet engine 300,000rpm and a high-speed turbine handpiece 360,000 – 400,000+ rpm.

If the internals aren’t cleaned correctly then this will, over time, create a wobble in the bur which eventually will damage the turbine itself.

Clean the internals

Always read the user manual and follow the manufacturers instructions on correct cleaning, lubrication and sterilisation procedures.

First, start cleaning the external of the handpiece with either purified/sterile water or an alcohol free cleaner/disinfectant wipe. Avoid using tap water due to possible mineral/limescale deposits, and never place them in an ultrasonic bath.

The next step is to clean the internals, of which there are two choices: either manual or automated.

If you are using a manual method for reprocessing, use a high quality oil with the correct nozzle and ensure 100% consistency. This method will remove approximately 30% of old oil, debris and contaminants. Therefore, around 70% will still remain inside your handpiece.

If you manual reprocess with the wrong nozzle and an oil without a built in detergent, approximately under 20% of old oil, debris and contaminants will be removed resulting in around 80% still inside your handpiece.

Using an automated reprocessing unit will result in approximately over 90% removal of old oil, debris and contaminants. As a result, less than 10% will remain inside your handpiece. The more old oil, debris and contaminants that can be removed, the better maintained the handpieces will be.

If you are manually oiling/cleaning, make sure you follow the correct steps:

  • Use a good quality oil
  • Shake the can to mix the ingredients
  • Use more than one can – each different nozzle should have its own can of oil
  • Use tissue to check for contaminants
  • Check that you have the necessary nozzle for your handpieces
  • Check that the nozzles are still effective
  • Do you flick the bur to start the handpiece?
  • Does your handpiece sound rough on the run down?
  • Send your handpieces in for an annual service.


Once the handpieces have been cleaned and oiled, it’s important that they are then sterilised using the correct autoclave and cycle.

All handpieces have internal channels where air will be present. Due to this, they must only be sterilised using a vacuum autoclave. This is because they have the ability to remove the air so that steam is able to penetrate and sterilise all surfaces.

If handpieces are placed in non-vac units which have no way of extracting the air, proper sterilisation can’t be achieved.

Any handpiece that is sterilised should also be pre-pouched to avoid any residual oil being sucked into the autoclave.

Take a look at the handpiece care and maintenance CPD course available at or email/call if you require any assistance: [email protected].

Catch up on previous Decon Pete columns:

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