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Developing a plan for equipment

March 1, 2018
If you plan to strike out from the traditional dental office to practice hygiene, it’s very important to have the right equipment for the job. Here are tips to help you in your search and purchase.
Be prepared for providing treatment outside of a traditional office

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

Dental hygienists have longed for a way to make a bigger impact in the world of health care for years. They have searched for ways to provide care to those who find it difficult to get to a traditional dental office. As dental practice acts evolve, these dreams are closer to reality than ever before. More hygienists are considering the option of offering care outside of the traditional dental office. It’s an exciting time.

Few dental hygienists have strong business backgrounds. Until recently, we were trained to become employees in more traditional settings, including in the public health realm. Even if we worked with portable units, most of us did not have to worry about purchasing or maintaining equipment. We went to work, took care of patients, and went home.

Things are different now. Many of you are now headed out to work on your own, and you’re likely contemplating making your first of many equipment purchases. While doing so, you’d probably like to save a dime and make your money go as far as possible. There is so much to think about. What kind of portable unit should you buy to get the job done? Will you be able to use some of your existing equipment, such as your favorite ultrasonic scaler? How much money will you need to get set up, and what about the cost of disposables?

One of the first things to consider is the unit itself. A bare-bones setup is perfect if all you need is an air or water syringe. But what about suction? Are you going to need a power-driven scaler? What about a curing light, and are you licensed to provide basic restorative procedures?

The natural reaction is to head to the internet and read up on the options. You could also talk with a colleague who has already traveled down this professional path. You’re likely to hear many opinions, some horror stories, and be bombarded with online testimonials that are impossible to verify.

What to buy

Take a close look at your immediate needs. If your initial foray is going to be a sealant-based program, you’ll need a much less sophisticated unit than if you were going to offer a broad range of services. It is important to find out if a basic unit can be upgraded or retrofitted to fit your needs. If you’ve ever thought about providing a wider range of services, it might be wise to look at a unit that has additional features.

Ultrasonic scalers are another consideration. The ultrasonic scalers in most portable units are piezo electric. While there’s nothing wrong with this platform, most hygienists are more familiar with magnetostrictive technology. If you prefer this platform, find out if a female quick-connect water-line connection can be built into the unit that will allow you to use the scaler you prefer.

Is the motor in the portable equipment strong enough to support two activities at once? For example, most of us don’t want to choose between using a power scaler or having a working suction system. Both systems need to be functional at the same time, especially when you’re serving populations such as children, the elderly, bed-bound, or disabled.

Is the unit easy to clean, disinfect, and maintain? Are the hoses readily accessible and easy to work with, or are they a tangled mess after one or two patients? Providing services outside of a traditional setting is hard. You don’t need any extra hassles.

Many of you are now headed out to work on your own, and you’re likely contemplating making your first of many equipment purchases.

Is the equipment easy to assemble and disassemble, or do you need a master’s in engineering to get it up and running? Is the unit easy to get in and out of a vehicle, roll down a hallway, or haul up the steps to someone’s door? Portable dental equipment typically weighs 50 pounds or less and is housed in a suitcase-type container on wheels. Mobile units weigh more, but they support more service options and are on wheels in order to move around a facility, such as a school or nursing home.

Before you order a unit from the internet sight unseen and sign on the dotted line, have a firm understanding of what you’re ordering. Sadly, some companies use product images that are not accurate. While the price may be attractive, often if a unit is manufactured outside of North America, it can bring some unexpected surprises. What if a water line breaks or a built-in component fails? Now what? Can the unit be serviced in this country, and are compatible parts even available? It is not reasonable to ship a unit back to an overseas manufacturer. Your budget will take a hit if you have to purchase more equipment, and your patients will have to wait until you’re up and running again.

Noise is another consideration for many. Initially there was concern that unit noise would be distracting in a school or nursing home, but now the spotlight is on practitioners. More dental professionals are concerned about noise-induced hearing loss, a real condition that affects many of us. It’s one thing to hear the compressor located in the closet down the hall from your treatment room. It is an entirely different situation to be exposed to noise coming from a mobile or portable unit. Do you know the dB levels created by the equipment that you’re considering? Continuous noise exposure over 85 dB during an eight-hour day is considered harmful. The effect is cumulative for all devices producing sound.

I’ve been acquiring my own equipment for nearly four decades. My goal is to purchase reliable and durable tools that don’t disappoint. Since I have such an interest in equipment, I’ve been fortunate to visit many US manufacturing facilities. It’s impressive to see the dedication that American workers show as they create, build, and fabricate quality products that make clinical practice and patient care better.

Located in Centennial, Colorado, DNTLworks focuses on creating mobile and portable dental equipment. Their equipment is used throughout North America and on mission trips around the world. Its sister company, Crown Seating, is in the same building. Their manufacturing facilities are impressive and the workers are knowledgeable. They take pride in creating just what dental professionals need to take care of our patients. I believe it’s important for us to support workers and the companies who have chosen not to outsource their manufacturing.

Choosing the wrong equipment can be a logistical nightmare. Selecting the right equipment that can grow with your dream to serve others is good business. Do it right the first time.

ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON, RDH, MPH, CSP, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971, and can be contacted at [email protected].