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Choosing the right dental unit

The dental unit is an essential care station for any dental office. It allows the patient to be comfortably positioned and provided with the appropriate care. It generally includes a dental chair for patient installation and positioning, an instrument holder with various connected rotating instruments, a scialytic lamp for lighting the care area, a spittoon and an aspiration system.

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  • What is the difference between a dental unit and a dental chair?

    Dentsply Sirona TENEO dental unit

    Dental units are often incorrectly called dental chairs, but for the purposes of this guide we will distinguish between the two terms. A dental chair is one of the components of a complete unit.

    The equipment installation may vary from one dental unit to another, but there are general trends. Almost all units include aspiration equipment and an instrument holder with the  tools  necessary to provide patient care. These include:

    • Handpieces: these include turbines, contra-angles and micromotors to drill a tooth quickly
    • The air gun for drying a specific area in the mouth
    • Scalers

    Dental chair

    The patient’s chair is an important part of the unit: this is where the consultation takes place. For all chairs, it is possible to adjust the height and inclination of the seat as well as the position of the headrest.

    Other components of a dental unit include:

    • The scialytic lamp that allows the dentist to have a shadow-free view of the patient’s mouth
    • Aspirating tools that allow saliva to be aspirated near sublingual glands
    • The spittoon so patients can rinse out their mouths after receiving care
    • The pedal that allows the dentist to activate the instruments

    All reusable tools are sterilized after each patient. Many items are disposable and single-use.

  • How does a dental unit work?

    There are several elements to consider:

    • Compressed air supply: dental units generally use systems that require compressed air. In order to do so, they are connected to an air compressor or a centralized network of compressed air. A compressor generally delivers between 8 and 10 bar of pressure at the tank outlet, which is far too high for dental equipment. It is therefore necessary to connect this equipment to between 4.5 and 5.5 bar pressure, according to the manufacturers’ recommendations, by inserting, for example at the compressor outlet, a pressure regulator with a potential filter. Good insulation of the dental office is very important.
    • Water supply: dental units must also be connected to a water supply for rinsing, cleaning and cooling functions. Water can cause many problems in dental units such as limescale, sand, sludge, rust or chlorine. Bacterial biofilms can also quickly appear on the inner surfaces of pipes and associated containers. To avoid such complications, it is very important to have an easily accessible, clean and efficient general water shut-off device in your office. Avoid old taps located behind furniture. Ideally, you should have a valve that is easily accessible so you can shut off the water every evening. In order to control limescale in installations, there are silicophosphate cartridges that limit deposits and last almost six months.
    • Power supply: some components of a dental unit as well as the instruments used during treatment require a power supply. For example, micro-motors or some dental chairs will need to be connected to power source to operate.
    • Ergonomics: how the unit’s components (such as the chair or instrument holder) move is important. Studies suggest that working with an instrument tray placed on the articulated arm above the patient’s chest is the best way to have a good balanced position, while being able to see all tooth surfaces. The dentist’s or assistant’s seat should also be lower than the patient’s chair. In this position, the dentist’s spine retains its natural curvature, which prevents prolonged pressure on the inter-vertebral discs.

    The main elements necessary for a dental unit to function properly are:

    • Compressed air supply
    • Water supply
    • Power supply
    • Ergonomics
  • What is it important to consider when buying a dental unit?

    In addition to the supply systems required for the proper functioning of the dental unit, there are three important elements to consider:

    • Space requirement: the area available for the installation of a dental unit will determine the number of elements as well as the configuration (compact or not) of the system.
    • Applications: the care given can vary and cover a range of odontology specializations such as endodontics, periodontics, implantology, etc. There are some units specifically designed for orthodontics, for example. It is important to keep this in mind, especially for the configuration of instrument holders.
    • Mobility: you might need your dental unit to be portable. There are portable dental care units that fit in a suitcase weighing about ten kilos. They can be equipped with an integrated air compressor for the operation of compressed air handpieces for example. These units are ideal for specific missions or mobile dental clinics.
  • How do you disinfect a dental unit?

    The disinfection of the following elements must be taken into account:

    • Process water: recent studies have shown that the dental cooling system can be colonized by different pathogens. Water stagnation during the night or insufficient cleaning of centralized decalcification systems favor the development of algae or micro-organisms such as fungi that then form a biofilm. There are several water disinfection techniques, such as the use of UV power to eliminate bacteria and prevent the growth of biofilm, or automatic cleaning and disinfection systems that treat water with specially designed products that are permanently distributed in low doses.
    • The chair: all patients sit in it and as such it is can be splashed with blood, saliva and other bodily fluids during routine dental care. If the chair is not properly disinfected, patients and caregivers can be exposed to all kinds of microorganisms such as herpes viruses, HIV, hepatitis B and C, staphylococci, streptococci, etc. These microorganisms can be transmitted through direct contact with blood or bodily fluids, or even, in some cases, through indirect contact with contaminated objects. The dental chair can also be exposed to parasites such as lice or bed bugs. It is therefore crucial to disinfect it with appropriate products after each use.
    • The surfaces: to limit the growth of bacteria, antibacterial coatings on the metal surfaces of the dental unit can be effective. All surfaces must be cleaned with disinfectant. Some manufacturers offer dental units that automatically adjust the position of the chair or the position of the instruments, thus avoiding as much as possible contact with the hands and reducing the risk of contamination.
  • What options are available for dental units?

    Some  more advanced dental units offer additional options such as a video monitor or  x-ray generator.

    In the latter case, intraoral phosphor plate x-ray systems allow images to be obtained in an instant. Panoramic radiographs or orthodontic images can be taken. Some manufacturers offer advanced technology solutions that guarantee high-contrast and accurate images with a low-dose radiation.

    There are also portable x-ray generators that allow you to take intraoral x-rays in situations when a fixed x-ray generator is not available.

    More and more practitioners are also turning to digital dentistry to further optimize their practice. With this technology, patients can obtain their panoramic, orthodontic or 3D images almost immediately.

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