You Can’t Live Without Them, So What’s The Next Best Thing?

While there’s no way around using handpieces during this pandemic, some may be better than others in terms of potentially mitigating risk. If you haven’t taken a close look at handpieces in a while, here’s a refresher on what to look for.

There’s no such thing as a “miracle” handpiece that generates zero aerosols. However, there are many options in terms of choosing the next best thing, which are handpieces that meet your clinical needs while reducing aerosol generation and the possibility for cross contamination as much as practically possible. Let’s quickly review some features and performance characteristics that make the most sense in terms of we know about reducing the risk of Covid-19 transmission.

A One-Two Punch Against Aerosols and Cross Contamination

Even if you know what the terms ‘anti-suck back’ and ‘anti-retraction’ mean, you might not realize how important their implications are in our current environment.

The issue of suck back first came to dentistry’s attention back in the 1990s. It became clear that air-driven handpieces were capable of transferring microbes from one patient to the next. That’s because, when air flow is interrupted for braking bur rotation, negative pressure can be created that can “suck back” fluids and debris into the handpiece’s air lines. This problem has been addressed by incorporating anti-suck back systems into well-engineered handpieces by reputable manufacturers. 

Not all handpieces incorporate anti-suck back technology. In fact, if you count in all of the cheap, no-name handpieces being sold through auction sites and questionable vendors, probably most of the handpieces worldwide don’t have anti-suck back features. The problem, of course, is that aerosols, fluids and debris that are sucked deep into the handpiece are more difficult to reach and properly sanitize. If the handpiece isn’t properly sanitized, the next time it’s used you’re exposing the patient, yourself and team to potentially dangerous aerosol.

Another safeguard is the use of an anti-retraction valve in couplers and micromotors to prevent water from being drawn back into the dental unit’s hose and water block. Since the hose, water block and valves are not sterilized, contamination presents a huge problem—but only if it occurs in the first place. Anti-retraction technology prevents this from happening, but once again, the higher quality the product, the more effective it is likely to be. 

It is important to note that dental units are required to have anti-retraction features, commonly known as duckbill valves, one-way valves, backflow valves and other names. However, handpieces are not required to have these features. Despite that, the very best handpieces do have anti-retraction built into the handpiece or coupler. Why? It acts as a backup. If the valves built into dental units begin to fail before a malfunction is able to be identified, the valve in the handpiece or coupler acts as a backup parachute of sorts.

An Ideal Time To Think About How Performance Also Impacts Your Safety

Clearly, if your handpieces don’t incorporate anti-suck back and anti-retraction features, you’re increasing the risk of cross contamination. That being said, it’s being reported that infectious disease experts now believe the length of exposure to Covid-19 and the amount of exposure are key factors in disease transmission. The risk would therefore appear to increase the longer you’re actually using your handpiece.

A solution would therefore be to use the highest-performance handpieces (and burs) possible. Doing so means completing procedures in the least amount of time, with the least amount of effort, and with the best clinical result which lessens the possibility that retreatment is necessary. Investing in high-quality, high-performance handpieces generally ensures you’re getting the benefits of not only anti-suck back and anti-retraction features, but also the ability to do faster dentistry that reduces the amount of time you could be exposed to Covid-19. Since dentistry is more time-consuming today, completing procedures faster contributes to meeting production goals as well, which is a welcome side benefit.

The Case For Investing In Quality and Safety

Obviously, low-quality handpieces offer none of the safety and performance advantages we’ve described. They don’t safeguard patients and your team, they don’t allow you to complete procedures as efficiently as possible, and they also may harbor microbes deep inside the handpiece that cannot be effectively neutralized through sterilization. Pre-Covid, we’d simply remind you that they cost you more money in the long run than they save you upfront. Now, however, they add a potential danger factor that cannot be ignored. It’s more important than ever to buy known brands from reputable dealers. High-quality handpieces last longer, perform better, can be relied on for peace of mind and are backed by their manufacturers for longer.

What Else You Can Do

As far as we know, aerosols are our biggest threat right now when it comes to Covid-19, and handpieces play an unavoidable part in generating them. However, in addition to choosing handpieces that address Covid concerns, there are other ways you can potentially ramp up your safety, like:

• Screening patients and doing reduced-contact check ins with stress-avoiding technology like OperaDDS

• Having patients rinse with a hydrogen peroxide or povidone-iodine solution before procedures

• Using dental dams to reduce airborne particles

• Considering the use of chairside extraoral suction

• Implementing enhanced air quality technology

Bottom Line

Benco Dental only sells handpieces by brands we know and trust, from our own Sterling line to exceptional names like NSK, Dentsply, KaVo and more. Now is the time to consider replacing your handpieces if they don’t meet the standards for today’s crisis. Look for the features we described as you browse the latest models in this issue of Big Big Deals. If you have any questions, be sure and reach out to your Friendly Benco Rep for help and answers. At a time like this, when it seems like everything is a little more complicated, choosing handpieces doesn’t have to be.

Intimidating dental artifact alert: Taylor Band Stretcher

When the Taylor Band Stretcher, shown at top, first appeared, it was mentioned by name in a paper by Dr. Herbert A. Pullen, who traveled all the way from Buffalo to San Francisco to present it on February 18, 1932. Other things that happened in 1932: Ford debuted the V8 engine and Radio City Music Hall opened in New York. Those are still around, but they’ve come a long way—just like the crowns and pliers of today.

Learn more about this dental artifact from Larry Cohen in his FOLIO Award-winning column in Incisal Edge dental lifestyle magazine: here.

Dr. Jim Clark brings his passion for dental transitions to Benco

Dr. Jim Clark (center) is bringing decades of transitions experience, including time as a military doc, to Benco. Above, Dr. Clark with his Air Force colleagues.

Nearly every dentist in America could benefit from 10 minutes with Benco’s new Head of Practice Transitions, Dr. Jim Clark. In his 30-plus year clinical career, the Alabama doc has done it all: creating, buying and selling multiple practices; merging his practice with (and later departing from) a DSO; working as a military dentist; and, prior to joining Benco, serving as an education specialist with a prominent implant manufacturer. It seems that no matter where you’re at in your career, Dr. Clark has likely been there too and has developed a knack for helping people figure out how to get to whatever goal is next.

“When you accumulate a lot of knowledge over the course of many years, the question then becomes what to do with it. The obvious answer is, you use it to help people. I’ve mentored a lot of dentists over the years at various points in my career, and I just developed a passion for it. At this point, I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing.”

Dr. Jim Clark, Benco Dental’s new Head of Practice Transitions

In his new role with Benco, Dr. Clark is working to expand its transitions offerings while maintaining Benco’s focus on putting customers first. “This is all about creating real relationships and giving good advice at every stage of a doctor’s career. That’s where my focus is,” he explained. “So whether Benco is consulting with young dentists about their post-grad career path, or helping design and build your first practice, or helping you sell through our network of hand-picked brokers, it’s not about making a sale, it’s about creating a bond because we’ve really helped someone in an important way.”

As a former Benco customer himself, Dr. Clark knows The Benco Difference firsthand. He even earned enough BluChip rewards points at one point to redeem for a Harley-Davidson motorcycle (which he almost did until, as he recalled, “my wife suggested taking up motorcycle riding wasn’t the best idea.”)

Dr. Clark has owned multiple practices over the years, and was part of a DSO for a time.

The long-term relationship with his former Benco Rep actually led to Dr. Clark joining the company fulltime. “I just happened to be talking to him about how much I’d like to make a career out of transitions, but didn’t know exactly how,” remembered Dr. Clark. “He said, well, let’s give Chuck Cohen [Benco’s managing director] a call and see what he thinks. I left Chuck a message and wasn’t sure I’d hear back, but I did, and eventually he invited me to headquarters to talk.”

The family feeling Dr. Clark enjoyed as a customer was immediately apparent when he walked through Benco’s lobby doors for the first time. “It confirmed everything I always believed about Benco. This is not some stuffy corporate giant. You know right away this is a family company.” It so happened that, at the same time, a large public company was taking a bigger stake of the company Dr. Clark was working for, and he was concerned what direction they might take. “Everything just came together. Benco was the right place for me at the right time.”

In his talks with Benco, Dr. Clark was adamant that customers always have to come first—even if it means delaying a sale or commission. “Chuck and the Benco team were on the exact same page from the start,” he recalled. “We have ambitious goals for expanding our transitions offerings, but never at the expense of our relationships. Because, look, sometimes doctors may want to sell, but after talking to them, I find out they’re not ready. There are things they need to do first to maximize the practice’s value. That may mean delaying the sale a few months, a year, two years, whatever it takes. Benco understands that’s the right thing to do.”

Dr. Clark with his his wife and three children, plus the family’s most recent addition, a grandchild.

As someone who has seen it all, Dr. Clark also believes there’s a very bright future for independent dental practices even as DSOs seem to be getting lots of attention. “I was part of a DSO at one point, and at Benco, we love all of our customers. There’s opportunity in the market for everyone,” he said. “Not every geographical area can support a DSO, and there’s also a limit to how many DSOs can compete in the same market, just like you can only have so many Target stores in one place. In the end, patients will gravitate to practices that meet their preferences. Some will gravitate to independent practices, others to DSOs. With social media and digital marketing tools, independent practices today have more ways than ever to compete with DSOs.”

So, what’s on the horizon for Dr. Clark as he settles into his new role at Benco?

“We’re making fast progress at expanding practicetransitions.benco.com to make it more like a dating site for connecting doctors with opportunities, whether it’s a job or a practice sale or purchase. I’m also establishing a larger network of brokers and evaluating those relationships to make sure, all across the U.S., we’re working with people who put clients first just like Benco always has.”

The road from Benco customer to Benco associate has been a satisfying one for Dr. Clark. Instead of mentoring one doctor at a time, he’s now working with people across the country and creating tools that will help hundreds or thousands of dentists every year. Still, he values that one-on-one connection and he stresses that he’s always available when customers want to talk.

“I love talking to dentists,” he said. “I also love creating value for Benco customers and putting everything I’ve learned over my decades in practice to work. If I can point someone in the right direction, or help them avoid a pitfall, that’s one of the most rewarding things about my job.” 

Thinking about a dental transition?

As Dr. Clark says, it’s never too early—or too late—to talk about your next transition. You can contact him personally at jc8602@benco.com or leave a message at 1-800-GO-BENCO. 

WVU rising: dental school innovation center drives change

The dental school’s new innovation center is driving change—and numbers are rolling in to prove it. WVU’s Dr. Lauren Yura talks what’s happening behind the scenes to boost her alma mater’s national profile. 

It only recently turned two, but West Virginia University School of Dentistry’s Dr. W. Robert Biddington Center for Dental Innovation is already having a profound impact. The only clinic of its kind on the East Coast when it opened, it was one of just three nationwide in 2017 where students experience a real-world environment that operates much like a private practice and also get access to the latest technology. (Benco Dental was one of dozens of donors who helped bring it to life in partnership with the Center for Research and Education in Technology, Inc.)

West Virginia University School of Dentistry’s Dr. W. Robert Biddington Center for Dental Innovation was the only clinic of its kind on the East Coast when it opened. In 2017, it was one of just three nationwide where students experience a real-world environment that operates much like a private practice and also get access to the latest technology.

For starters, it’s a recruiting boon that’s shifting the student body’s demographics. The vast majority of dental students—about 80%—were West Virginians prior to the center’s opening. Today, about half come from out of state. With such a major shift, the school understandably felt compelled to start surveying applicants about what drew them. The results: 99% said the center was a major factor in their decisions to apply.

“Students say it’s the first time they feel like real dentists. They get to broaden themselves as clinicians through increased repetition and exposure to more materials. They also get exposed to practice management and what it means to deal with insurance, fee setting, and staff training.”

Dr. W. Robert Biddington Center for Dental Innovation Director and Assistant Professor, Dr. Lauren Yura

All of which, says Dr. Yura, is changing the way students transition. “They’re better prepared, no question. Since it’s a higher-end environment, it’s also influencing where’d they’d want to work, or what type of practice they’d create for themselves.” 

Time will tell, but as a proud WVU alum herself, Dr. Yura is clearly passionate about sending her students into the world as the best prepared graduates in the school’s history.

Dr. Lauren Yura (right) with a dental student at the Dr. W. Robert Biddington Center for Dental Innovation.