Take the edge off sharpening

April 1, 2006
Instrument sharpening, especially for sickle scalers and curettes, is a very personal task for many hygienists.

Instrument sharpening, especially for sickle scalers and curettes, is a very personal task for many hygienists. The thought of someone else, who may be untrained, taking a stone to our instruments and perhaps obliterating the cutting edge is frightening. Many hygienists have distinct preferences as to which instrument sharpening technique, abrasive stone, and equipment should be used. If you have ever filled in as a temp in another dental office where perhaps many hygienists have attempted to sharpen the tools, you know that a familiar instrument may not have the recognizable beveled edge you are familiar with intact.

Each instrument is designed for a certain approach and application during hygiene services. When the cutting edge is not preserved and the edge becomes distorted, delivering hygiene services will become a laborsome process. Instruments become dull with use. They become rounded and worn away, and then reflect a light source. Your patient might casually comment, “I don’t care for the sharp tools you dig around in my mouth with.” Patients may associate a sharp instrument with possible pain during treatment. In reality, if we choose dull instruments over sharp tools, or neglect to sharpen them as needed, we may very well cause discomfort to the tissue or accidentally gouge the tooth surfaces.

Some discrepancies exist when you use unmounted manual hand stones. Do you move the stone and hold the instrument stationary, or does the instrument move over the stone? Does it matter? Once again, individual preferences for stones and technique begin to play a major role in instrument maintenance. If you find instrument sharpening somewhat baffling or a drudgery, power sharpening equipment may relieve your dread. Mounted stones may be positioned at various angles to preserve the blade face and toe and reduce the possibility of user error. With some training, power equipment can be easy and efficient to use.

Because each instrument is designed to work in a specific area of the mouth or be used as a universal tool, correctly sharpening the cutting edge and rounding toes when needed is a challenge to preserve the manufacturer’s intended instrument shape. It is unfortunate to select a freshly sharpened curette for periodontal procedures from a sterile cassette only to see that the instrument blade has been reshaped to a pointed scaler - definitely not what you want when going subgingival.

Premier Dental takes the guesswork out of achieving the correct angle by using a dial-type design that lists settings of various instruments. The D.I.S.C. sharpener effectively uses a dry ceramic stone, with the dial, which may be used chairside and then disassembled for autoclaving. Using this method, the clinician concentrates on the instrument handle (not the shank or blade) and keeps the handle parallel to the designated lines on the dial. Once the position is correctly selected, the hygienist pulls the instrument along the stone.

The PDT-Gleason Guide has an angle rest that aligns the dental tool as the hygienist moves along the stone and stainless steel guide. PDT has a specialized Ultimate Edge Transformation kit which hones more aggressively to reshape misshapen tools. A useful and unique sharpness tester, the PingRing, can also be found in the kit. The PingRing instrument sharpness tester is worn on the finger. Because it is worn as a ring, it will be less likely to roll out of reach like traditional test sticks. For the hygienist who is accustomed to using an unmounted manual stone, stones with specific guides for sharpening will be effective upgrades for sharpening dull instruments.

Another handy chairside sharpener is the Hu-Friedy Sidekick, which is AA-battery powered and has a lovely purple outer casing. The cordless sharpener uses channels that serve as guides to position the tool, along with a vertical backstop which maintains angulation of the blade as it travels over the ceramic stone’s oscillating action. Synthetic-type stones (as opposed to quarried, natural abrasives) provide a more consistent grit. The Sidekick offers chairside convenience because it is compact and does not take up precious operatory space.

Power stone sharpeners are designed to sharpen not only hygiene instruments, but explorers, chisels, carvers, and numerous other restorative tools. With the hygiene team needing most of the sharpening, power equipment specific to the needs of the hygienist are most welcome. The RX Honing machine has a periodontal set (Rx System II Perio Set) and disk guide to provide proper angulation during

operation of stones, leather discs, and abrasives. Another power sharpener, the InstRenew2 by Nordent, uses a holding clamp to lock the instrument into place between the lateral surface and the blade.

Motorized and fixed stone systems make it easier to produce consistent sharpening results for curettes and scalers. The PerioStar 3000, by KerrHawe, offers standardized motorized operation to produce precise angles. The instrument is placed into position, safely covered on the end not being sharpened, and then sharpened - hands-free. The machine clamps the point into a positioning groove when the clinician places the terminal shank vertically. With routine sharpening, instrument life will be extended, original shape preserved, and sharpening will take far less time. However, when an instrument becomes excessively dull or sharpened at an incorrect angle, it is necessary to recontour the tool and create a lateral surface.

Many clinicians find it difficult to sharpen instruments. It’s not easy to position the cutting edge of the instrument properly against a stone with exact pressure and maintain the correct angle throughout the process. Accurate sharpening, done routinely, will help extend the life of dental instruments.

The author did not receive compensation for products mentioned.