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Bad Smell

The DIY assistant: The stinky business of traps

May 24, 2021
Our first article in this new series, the DIY assistant, discusses how to properly clean traps. Each DIY article will help you solve office problems with your know-how.

In this new article series, the DIY assistant, we’re going to explore regular and preventive maintenance and repair options for your dental practices. We all know that knowledge is power. If you can fix something, things get done faster and frustration levels stay low.

This first article focuses on all traps in our offices, and there are a few! Remember that traps contain a ton of bacteria, like a petri dish full of stuff, so proper personal protective equipment is required when messing with these slimy things.

Plaster traps

These are the traps found in the sink in the lab, and they’re usually not checked as often as they should be. When using the model trimmer, the slushy plaster slurry water drains through a pipe that is connected to your sink. If the sink gets clogged up, this can really wreak havoc on the day.

The plaster trap is located under the sink and collects the large chunks from all the slurry water so that the chunks don’t go down the drain, and this prevents clogging. If you forget this little trap, you will have huge plumbing issues that can be very costly. I advise that you change these traps once a month, and while you’re at it, clean that model trimmer too! This will keep it free of debris and in top working order.

Chairside suction traps

These little traps take a huge beating each and every day. They’re located on the cabinet, close to the suction, either under the cabinet or beside the suction lines themselves. The lids must be removed when the suction is turned off and the traps should be taken out and replaced. The traps may contain alloy from restorations that have been removed. Be sure to place the alloy in the proper container for disposal. This is generally a container that’s separate from other waste because alloy should not be put in a container that will be incinerated and should not be placed in regular trash. (See the amalgam separator section below.)

The traps themselves should be disposed of by a licensed hazardous waste hauler. If the office is not contracted with waste hauler, you need to establish a relationship with one. They can then direct you to what is safe and appropriate. Check your state and local laws to see what the recommendations are for this.

For years, I had no idea this little trap was disposable. I kept cleaning and replacing it. Don’t be me! These traps are super inexpensive and are much easier to throw away and replace. This is recommended weekly or when it becomes clogged. So, keep the trap free of debris and it will work properly. Don’t forget to run your suction lines daily with a recommended cleaner so that the lines stay free of debris, which also contributes to a better evacuation. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for use. These vary with each product.

Suction trap

Way back in the depths of your office compressor room is a trap that is so hideous that most dental assistants avoid removing it and choose to close the door and retreat to a fresher environment. Of course, this is an exaggeration, but if you haven’t changed this trap, hold your breath because the smell can curl your hair! This trap catches everything that made it through the chairside trap, and it should be replaced monthly. It’s disposable, so simply toss it into an appropriate waste container, and replace it. Forgetting this trap will be a huge mistake because it can slow your evacuation system.

Amalgam separator

This trap might still be new to some offices. The amalgam separator trap is now required for all offices to catch the alloy that used to be sent into the sewage system. Due to regulations designed to keep systems clean and free of dental alloy, a federal rule was passed that mandates all dental offices add an amalgam separator to prevent contamination.

Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions for your office’s amalgam separator. Many of them are designed to last for about one year. But don’t rest on your laurels because this is only a guideline. Some of these separators are designed so that they can be replaced by the office staff, and some must be replaced by a maintenance specialist from a dealer representative. Disposal is regulated, so make sure you are disposing of it properly!

Taking care of traps is just one of the many things dental assistants can do help keep their offices running smoothly. Your knowledge will make you a valuable asset to your practice!

This article first appeared in the Dental Assisting Digest newsletter. To subscribe, visit dentistryiq.com/subscribe.

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.