Practice Tips #101: Your Technician Needs Help Too


Technician with crystal ball

So you have a question about what you need to order? Can't quite decide between two products that look very similar to what you are holding in your hand? While our dental technicians often seem like mind readers, they aren't actually clairvoyant and rarely use a crystal ball for help.

Here are a few things you can do or check before calling a technician to save yourself time and help us help you find the correct solution:

1. Have the make and model of equipment in question.

We need to know what you have, so we know how it works, what it does, and how it’s supposed to do what you need it to do.

2. The approximate date of manufacture (generally, within 5 years).

MOST manufacturers are constantly updating and refining their designs, but they will often use the same model name over multiple incarnations. It is helpful for us to know when your item was made in order to determine which incarnation you have.

3. Know your measurements. 

A LOT of tubing, fittings, or other components can be applied to various pieces of equipment universally; we just need to know the size. Most equipment is made in the US, so the unit of measure is the standard inch (or fractional inches). Familiarize yourself with a ruler:

NOTE: Ruler for illustration purposes only and not to scale.

We’ve called out some of the increments on the above ruler for you. All of the marks on the ruler indicate a specific fraction. The length of the lines indicate which increment to use. The longest line shows inches (numbered). The next longest line shows an inch divided by two (1/2”). The next longest line is the previous increment further divided by 2 (1/2 divided by 2 = ¼) etc. Most rulers have inches, as well as increments of ½, ¼, 1/8, and 1/16. Some will even go down to 1/32 or 1/64 increments as well. For most fittings in a typical dental unit, 1/8 increments are as small as you’re likely to use.

If you want to count the lines on the ruler to determine the fraction, you can do so. Just count all lines the same length as the line you’re on AND any longer lines. For example, on the ruler above, the line called out as 7/8” is the 7th line before the “1” of the 1/8th increment length OR LONGER. If you don’t have a ruler, you can also refer to our handy o-ring, thread, and tubing size page online.

NOTE: if you’ve got threads on a pipe, you should NEVER measure the threads. The sizing of pipe threads refers to the inside diameter of the pipe, not the size of the threads. Use the diagram we’ve linked to or measure the smooth inside of your pipe only.

4. Part numbers and OEM numbers.

We can cross-reference OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) part numbers for many types of equipment. We also have access to materials from various after-market suppliers and even competitors. Just be sure to know the source of the part number too. We can’t cross-reference if we don’t know to whom the part number belongs.

5. Provide photos.

You can also e-mail us photos of your equipment or components to find a match. We’ll recognize many brands and parts on sight. A few photos from different angles and both close-up and wide shots are also helpful. Often we see very detailed close-up photo. Without a wide shot to provide context, identifying a part or the role it plays in your equipment is difficult.

6. Check your main supply pressure in the room in question.

If having any problems with the air or water in a unit, always confirm a proper main supply pressure. You should have at least a 2:1 air to water pressure ratio (i.e. the air pressure should be at least double the water pressure). Typical settings are 80 psi for air and 40 psi for water. If the air pressure is too low (or the water pressure is too high) that alone can create a host of problems in your delivery system, cuspidors, or anything else that uses air or water.

For more information on pressure and how to set it, check out previous issues of Practice Tips (issue #3, issue #23, and issue #73). In order to adjust the pressure, make sure you have the air and water running by pressing and holding the buttons down on your air/water syringe while adjusting the pressure. You may need to have an assistant hold the buttons down while you make the adjustment(s). ALSO very important for any problems with air or water – make sure your compressor is on.

7. Always start with the simple things, they are often the cause of failures.

For electrical problems, always check the fuse in the device (most pieces of electrical equipment will have a main fuse). Make sure it’s plugged in (“I had to make coffee, so I unplugged the sterilizer...”) and check the circuit breaker, as well. If it has a bulb that doesn’t light, try a new bulb.

8. Check your filters and screens.

Air, water, vacuum, and sterilizers all have filters. There are a host of filters throughout the dental office. If you’ve got problems with any of the above, check the associated filter(s). If you have trouble locating the filters of a specific device or determining if you have one, check out Practice Tips issue #60. We discuss how to find and check a wide variety of filters in that issue. Your owner’s manual for any device in question should also cover what filters you have, how often they should be changed, and how to do so.

    If you take a little time before calling, you can save yourself a lot of time in the long run and help us more accurately diagnose any problems you’re having so we can find you the correct solution to get you back up and running as soon as possible.


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