Th 0601dem Handpiece01

You can beat handpiece burnout with TLC technology

Jan. 1, 2006
A revolution is shaking the world of handpieces … dead handpieces are restored, existing handpieces last 18 to 24 months longer, and even new handpieces purr like kittens.

Story by Lloyd Luckey. Photos and illustrations provided by Southland Distribution & Sales.

A revolution is shaking the world of handpieces … dead handpieces are restored, existing handpieces last 18 to 24 months longer, and even new handpieces purr like kittens.

New “TLC” technology

It’s not oil! It’s a recent breakthrough in lubrication technology that solves many problems long associated with handpiece sterilization and lubrication.

TLC Technology is Nano Lubrication that can virtually eliminate 90 percent of friction and wear. This lubrication breakthrough was developed specifically for the dental handpiece. TLC cures sluggish turbines and accelerated wear by protecting handpieces under extreme pressures and temperatures. TLC lubrication is non-toxic, non-flammable, biodegradable, and even food-grade.

How does TLC work?

TLC Nano Technology is chemistry working at the molecular level to form an invisible, near-permanent friction barrier. This virtually indestructible bond forms a new surface and creates a self-replenishing barrier. It is this micro-thin TLC polymer layer which eliminates 90 percent of friction and wear, resulting in a faster, smoother, and quieter handpiece.

The TLC polymer coating forms on all interacting metal-to-metal and metal-to-ceramic surfaces when the handpiece runs at full speed for a couple of seconds. TLC stays in place during sterilization, eliminating the need to lubricate after sterilization. The polymer provides boundary lubrication throughout the complete dental procedure and prevents the ingested debris from adhering to the critical bearing components.

As a result, handpiece life is extended and costly handpiece repairs are reduced and/or eliminated. New and dead handpieces can be restored to faster speeds and more torque.

Sterilization is not the problem

Sterilization of dental handpieces was not recommended until the early 1990s. Dentists began autoclaving and quickly learned that the component materials of the handpiece could not withstand the pressures and temperatures of the super-heated steam during the autoclave process. Plastic tubing, o-rings, and soldier joints melted when subjected to these conditions.

Subsequently, handpiece manufacturers developed instruments using better materials designed to survive the sterilization process. Today’s dental handpieces are feats of modern technology, able to sustain speeds of 250,000 to 500,000 revolutions per minute (rpm). It is a rare occasion when any other piece of equipment exceeds these operating speeds!

Gooey residue is baked on turbines and inside bearings.
Click here to enlarge image

Handpieces and their components are engineered from the finest metals, heat-resistant o-rings, gaskets, and bearing technology. Think about this - if the component parts were bagged and sterilized separately, they would last forever. Being the weakest material, the cage would eventually dry out from the heat, become brittle, and fail only under stress.

Recurring handpiece repair has become a widely accepted part of a dental practice. If handpieces are engineered to withstand the autoclave, what is causing their failure?

TLC Technology chemically reacts with free radicals on interacting metal surfaces, forming a true eutectic polymer which provides lubrication.
This solid boundary barrier prevents metal-to-metal and metal-to-ceramic contact, reducing friction and wear by approximately 80 to 90 percent, dramatically increasing the life of bearings.
The molecular bond stays in place during sterilization and high speeds, providing lubrication throughout the entire dental procedure. The solid TLC polymer repels water/steam and ingested debris.
Click here to enlarge image


Traditional lubrication is the problem

Modern dental handpieces have met the criteria for sterilization. Common sense tells us these high-speed miracles of engineering need to be cleaned and lubricated. Since the inception of sterilization, very little has been done to improve the dental handpiece lubricants. Only when traditional oil is introduced into the sterilization process do handpiece turbines become sluggish and fail in six to eight months … sometimes less.

Why? The answer is simple: Oil and water do not mix.

Traditional handpiece lubricants are low-viscosity mineral oils. When a handpiece is lubricated and subjected to steam sterilization, the water from the super-heated steam and oil creates a slurry. As the handpiece goes through the autoclave’s drying cycle, the slurry thickens to become a “gooey residue.”

During the dental procedure, the handpiece running at 250,000 to 500,000 rpm becomes a strong miniature vacuum. The high-speed handpiece will ingest blood, saliva, and micro particles of tooth, amalgam, and composite into the turbine and bearings, most of which contain animal proteins.

After each dental procedure, the handpiece is returned to sterilization where it is again lubricated and sterilized. As the handpiece is cycled and recycled, the gooey residue, now a mixture of oil, water, protein, and debris becomes thicker and thicker.

These components are so small that any amount of debris can interfere with the rotation of the micro precision ball bearings. (pictured in the dimple of Roosevelt’s ear)
Click here to enlarge image

However negligible this build-up, the “gooey residue” begins to slow the handpiece down, increasing bearing wear and operator frustration. Even the smallest residue can restrict rotation of the precision bearings.

The handpiece progressively becomes slower and slower. Many dentists recognize the problem only when the handpiece becomes so sluggish it will not cut a tooth, causing loss of valuable time and potential profits.

At this point, the dead handpiece goes in the drawer for repair. This scenario plays out every day, over and over, in thousands of modern-day dental offices, fueling the handpiece repair business, which exceeds $200 million a year.

The secret to resurrection

In the absence of superior cleaning and lubrication, every handpiece is destined to “die” sooner than it should. Once a handpiece dies, it is often put in the hands of a repair technician … but approximately three out of five dead handpieces can be resurrected with an advanced yet simple cleaning.

Once again, technology comes to the rescue. The partner to TLC nano lubrication is a customized cleaner able to “evaporate” buildup of proteins, baked-on oil, and debris from the miniature surfaces of the turbine. This cleaning frees the bearings and “resurrects” or extends the life of the handpiece.

After a thorough cleaning, the handpiece can be lubricated, autoclaved, and returned to service. Note: Currently, Bio Lube Advanced Handpiece Cleaner is the only product to use this technology.


If the use of traditional oil is continued after an advanced cleaning, the resurrected handpiece is destined to accumulate the gooey residue, leading to accelerated handpiece failure.

This residue attracts more debris and acts like sandpaper, increasing wear on the bearing cage. The cage is a critical part of the bearing; it holds the precision balls in place.

Bearings are held in place with a high-temp resin “cage.”
Click here to enlarge image

The perfectly round and symmetrical holes designed into the cage will gradually become oval in shape from the constant stopping and starting of the operating handpiece. The oval holes will grow in size until they touch an adjacent hole. Then the cage simply cracks and falls apart. This is known as a “catastrophic failure” of the bearing. At this point, no amount of cleaning or superior lubrication can help, as the bearings must now be replaced.

TLC technology, however, embodies proprietary ingredients to recondition the interior cage, keeping it pliable and resilient, reducing the normal oxidation and failure caused by sterilization.

Click here to enlarge image



Attempts have been made to solve maintenance problems and handpiece burnout, but they have done little more than relieve the office staff of duties.

Maintenance stations
Handpiece manufacturers have introduced lubrication stations to help overcome the challenge of maintaining handpieces. Part of the design is to flush enough lubricant (which contain solvents) through the handpiece in an attempt to clean as well as lubricate the components. The convenience has promoted a better maintenance routine, but still uses traditional oils resulting in the same problems associated with sterilization.

Maintenance-free handpieces
Maintenance-free handpieces are not exactly lubrication-free. Bearings are pre-packed with grease, which suffers from the same scenario as oil. Ingested debris still accumulates and accelerates cage wear - maybe more so because instructions specify no cleaning or lubrication. In fact, using traditional lubricants containing solvents removes the grease. Without the grease, the bearings need constant cleaning and lubrication.

The convenience of auto-matic maintenance stations has promoted a more reliable regimen for cleaning and lubrication using traditional oil. The grease alleviates the responsibility of maintenance by the office staff, but both of these options have not solved all the problems of traditional oils and sterilization.

Click here to enlarge image

Even stringent maintenance routines with traditional oils provide minimum lubrication under the extreme speeds at which dental handpieces run. At 250,000 to 500,000 rpm, lubricants are expelled. Accelerated wear tests show that traditional oils and no lubrication create the same amount of wear.

Bottom line? “It’s not oil!”

In the advent of handpiece sterilization and the attempts to solve the problems posed by traditional oils, you can see why TLC nano lubrication technology is revolutionary!

  • It’s not oil! The TLC polymer and water will not form a gooey residue, which eliminates sluggish turbines.
  • The TLC polymer provides lubrication and stays in place at 500,000 rpms, virtually eliminating wear.
  • Proprietary TLC additives condition and maintain the critical cage material protecting it from becoming brittle in the autoclave. No other lubricant has this protection!

TLC technology solves the problems of traditional lubrication and sterilization. Handpiece life can be extended 18 to 24 months beyond the standard warranty, and TLC will not void the manufacturer’s warranty. With reduced repairs, cost of wasted time, increased production, and operator satisfaction, a dental practice will save thousands of dollars in a matter of minutes by simply resurrecting the dead handpieces from the drawer! Handpiece maintenance with TLC makes more than sense - it makes “dollars and sense!”

Note: Currently, the only handpiece lubricant offering TLC Technology is the Bio Lube Advanced Handpiece Maintenance System. Remember to follow ADA, CDC, and OSAP recommended sterilization procedures.

About the author: Lloyd Luckey is president and founder of ISI (Integrated Solutions, Inc.). For more information about TLC Technology, call (866) BIO-LUBE. For information about Bio Lube products, call (800) 880-0240 or visit

No need to lubricate after sterilization.
Click here to enlarge image


Click here to enlarge image