Getting Back to Basics
Jan 01th, 2012
Things are so much simpler today, while at the same timing reaching higher and higher levels of complexity. Automobiles are a perfect example. Back in the day, my 1973 VW Super Beetle was an amazingly simple car, but I constantly had to change spark plugs and ignition points to keep it running properly. Brakes and valves required frequent adjustment and other routine maintenance seemed almost a monthly activity. Today my totally-computerized, satellite-connected mechanical marvel is wildly sophisticated, however all I really need to do is put gas in it and have the dealer change the oil every 5000 miles. Simple. When I lift the hood, the only user-accessible item is the oil dipstick. The car literally cries out, “Don’t touch me”. It’s a good thing as my years as a gas pump jockey and grease monkey are shrinking to nothingness in the rear view mirror of life. While still in high school, my friends and I routinely built hot motors from the engine block up. Today, I lack the expertise or inclination to do my own oil changes. This dude is disconnected.
As I’ve gotten back into the world of orthodontic instrumentation after an almost 20-year hiatus, I see this same type of disconnection among our customers. The problem is that little has really changed with pliers while everything has changed about the clinical environment and the perception of care and maintenance. There are simply other things to worry about and, as digital technology has opened up new opportunities and efficiencies, it has also desensitized us to taking care of things mechanical.
One thing that has changed about the world of pliers is their price. Though today’s orthodontist has a much smaller and scaled down instrument armamentarium, the typical 4-chair practice still can carry an inventory of 150-200 pliers. At today’s prices, that can easily exceed an investment of $25K. Compared to purchasing a cone beam x-ray machine, twenty-five grand may seem like chicken scratch, but if you need to replace your instruments frequently due to incompatibility issues with sterilization procedures, it can add up fast.
As I have traveled the country giving presentations to orthodontic residents, it has become painfully clear that the significance of how pliers are made, and from what materials they are manufactured from has been lost. Students have a legitimate excuse because they are newcomers, but we have the same conversations through our repair department with practicing clinicians, discussing damage issues that could easily have been avoided by a better level of understanding of instrument materials.
Since before that VW of mine was built, orthodontic pliers have been manufactured with non-stainless materials inserted in the tips that were tough enough to withstand the wear caused by evolving hi-tech alloys in wires and appliances. For reasons of practicality, those non-stainless materials are still relevant today. The conundrum is that many orthodontists have forgotten that these materials reside in their offices as they evaluate sterilizers, cleaning solutions, and lubricants without consideration for the special requirements of sustaining material integrity.
There are tip materials today that withstand moisture, and if you work in one of the practices that is required, or has chosen, to use steam as a primary means of sterilization, you must choose these non-ferrous materials for your instruments. These materials (primarily tungsten carbide) require some compromise as they are more brittle, slippery, and less ductile than ferrous tip materials, but they are your only choice. For those offices still using dry heat, tool steel tip materials will provide the best longevity and performance in day-to-day clinical use, but you better use the right cleaning solutions and lubricants or they will degrade.
The bottom line is to stay connected to the tools of your trade and whenever you change a procedure or process, check with the folks that make your instruments before you put your plier inventory at risk. Companies like Dentronix are at your service to help you get the most out of the products you have chosen.
Category: Dentronix Quarterly