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Myth busters for dental assistants: Does your practice reuse burs?

April 23, 2021
Myths persist in the dental assisting profession. Tija Hunter explains why it is not OK to reuse burs, with infection control at the top of the list.

We reuse burs all the time in our practice, so it’s perfectly fine! Right? Wrong!

I have to shake my head every time I hear that. Just because you do something doesn’t mean it’s right!

Burs have been a topic of conversation for years. How do you clean them? Do they have to be sterilized after each patient? Can you just leave them on the counter, let the doctor use what he wants, and then put away the rest?

Let's hear it for disposable materials

The move is on to change dental offices over to all disposable materials, and here’s why. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) dictates what we can and can’t use in our practices. Although you may not care about that, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) do, and they design regulations and recommendations accordingly.

Here is what the FDA says about reusing dental burs on September 4, 2019: “The FDA considers all diamond-coated burs single-use unless the manufacturer has a 510k clearance on file.”

Yes, you read that correctly, all diamond-coated burs. Think about it; there is no way that all of those microscopic pits and grooves can be properly cleaned and sterilized. If you can’t effectively sterilize something that has been in one patient’s mouth, would you want it in your mouth?

So, why are nondisposable burs even made? I don’t know. Why do they make hard toothbrushes? Diamond burs need to be sharp because they’ve got some cutting to do. Using a new disposable one each time just makes sense. You get a sharp bur for each patient and there’s no need to clean it. Just toss the old one, grab a presterilized new one, and go to work!

Then don’t forget: that bur goes in the sharps container.

The CDC says, “Sometimes disposable patient-care items have reusable heat-tolerant alternatives. This is often true for prophylaxis angles, high-volume evacuator tips, impression trays, dental burs, and air and water syringe tips. In many instances, the reusable version of these items is hard to adequately clean, and it may be safer, easier, and more cost-effective to use the disposable version.”

Even carbide burs are very hard to clean. I’m sure a microscopic picture of a used inverted cone bur would show all kinds of crap still in the bur. There are too many nooks and crannies that simply cannot be cleaned. These burs are going to be used on patients, family, and even ourselves, so why wouldn’t we want to make sure all of those people get the best in infection control? They expect it, they’re paying for it, and they deserve it.

Cost is not your concern

Too often I hear dental assistants say, “That costs too much.” That’s not your problem! Sure, we want to help our practices grow, save money, and succeed. I pride myself on keeping our supply costs down. Providing dentistry costs more now than ever. However, cutting corners on proper infection control is not the way to do it.

Think about when you reuse items that you should not—nitrous oxide nasal hoods, HVE tips, prophy angles, metal air/water tips, and more. If something says single-use, one-time use only, or disposable, you must throw it away and get a new one. Also, a numeral two with a line through it means you cannot reuse something. Read labels and get to know your products.

Before you say, “The CDC makes recommendations. They don’t make laws, so we don’t have to do it,” think of this. If something happens in your office, and disease spreads, more than likely the dental board will ask, “Why weren’t you following CDC guidelines?”

While the cost of doing business is not your problem, knowingly spreading disease by not practicing proper infection control and using subpar materials is!

Tija Hunter, CDA, EFDA, CDIA, CDSO, CDSH, MADAA, is a member and current vice president of the American Dental Assistants Association (ADAA), where she holds the honor of Master. Tija is the editor of Dental Assisting Digest and contributes to Dental Economics magazine. She is the director of the Dental Careers Institute, a dental assisting and dental continuing education program, and an international speaker and a certified trainer in nitrous oxide in several states.