Practice Tips #5: A Brief Introduction to Dental Fittings

What type of fitting is it?


Barbed fittings are used on the plastic tubing inside a dental unit. Most of the hoses are held on with barbs and sleeve clamps. A barb is simply a serrated hollow projection over which the tubing is placed. The barbs grip the tubing and a sleeve clamp is then pushed over the tubing forcing it onto the barb:

Double Ended Barb: #14-11

Note, the sleeve clamp will be slightly beveled at one end. The beveled end should go on towards the barb. Given the rigidity of metal barbs, it makes it easier to slide the sleeve clamp down. Some barb fittings are plastic and will have more “give,” so you will need to slide the sleeve clamp over a plastic barb with the unbeveled end first to increase the pressure on the tubing.

Barb Tee: #14-05

Keep in mind:

  • Barb fittings are generally used on the smaller supply lines (1/8” or 1/4” outside diameter hoses) as well as the handpiece and syringe tubing.
  • Barb fittings are normally used inside the unit control head (bracket table, as many of you may call it).
  • Most barb fittings have a 10-32 machine thread regardless of the size of the barb, so one size can easily be exchanged for another if necessary. They also have a 1/4” hexagonal base for use with an open-end wrench.

Compression Fittings

Compression fittings are similar to barbs in that you have a small hollow tube the tubing will slide over. A plastic sleeve holds the tubing in place. However, unlike a barb, on a compression fitting the internal tube is smooth (not serrated) and a threaded nut screws down over the sleeve squeezing (compressing) it onto the tubing. On a compression fitting, the sleeve is tapered on the outside causing it to compress further as the nut is tightened over it.

Compression fittings are normally used for larger lines (1/4” or 3/8” outside diameter) and are more commonly encountered in your junction box- where the air and water enter the room.

Compression fittings are also sometimes used on brass or copper pipes. You will normally only encounter these on the manual shut-offs in your junction box. These shut-off valves will have a large handle and look like the valve you’ll see under your sink. The sleeve on this fitting will be brass.

Pipe Threads

Pipe threads are relatively coarse and, as the name implies, will be used to join something to a pipe (including another pipe). Pipe thread size is determined by measuring the inside diameter (i.d) of the pipe (NOT the thread). Male threads are on the outside of the pipe or fitting and female threads are on the inside. For ease in identifying, we have pipe thread profiles shown at actual size in our print catalog (wherein we have more control over sizing than in an e-mail).

Machine Threads

Machine threads are more fine and tend to be used with barb fittings, screws, bolts, and nuts. It is not practical to measure a machine thread, but if you need to match a machine thread nut or bolt, just bring it to your local hardware store for a match.