13 Tips for Buying Dental Units for Non-Traditional Settings

A traditional dental office is the “comfort zone” for most dentists and dental hygienists. This is how most of us were taught in school. Venturing out into a non-traditional setting can be very rewarding but can also present unanticipated challenges, especially when purchasing large equipment.

There are many equipment options available options for providing dental services in non-traditional settings. I am a dental hygienist, working under general supervision, in a hybrid-traditional dental office setting in a rural, semi-satellite office. By hybrid-traditional dental office, I mean that we see private patients but also work closely with nearby county public health departments, fulfilling their dental grant obligations. By semi-satellite, I mean, most of the time I perform my preventive services in the office by myself, utilizing a secure, HIPAA-compliant teledentistry program to transmit patient information to my supervising doctor. I practice in a rural area but my supervising doctor has a traditional dental office with 2 other hygienists approximately 60 miles away. All of my patient exams are completed using asynchronous teledentistry. My doctor, his assistant & receptionist venture out to the satellite office, as restorative procedures are diagnosed and scheduled.

Here is the equipment that we use to make this arrangement work out:

  • Teledentistry Equipment – TeleDent MobileOp, a telehealth connected mobile dental cart by MouthWatch
  • Mobile dental units – ProCart II & III by DNTLworks
  • All other equipment is similar to what is used in a traditional office

Significant differences exist between using non-traditional, self-contained dental units compared to standard dental units in a traditional operatory. Here’s what I have learned to look for in self-contained dental units.

13 tips on evaluating self-contained dental units

  1. Ask the vendor about the amount of vacuum capacity and if this is an adjustable feature. Inquire if all functions of the unit can be performed simultaneously. This generally requires 70-100 psi. Is there a dedicated vacuum pump for each specific function? Because these units are designed to be compact and portable, compromises may exist.
  2. Determine your needs. If weight and size are of main concern, consider the smaller capacity, single motor units, keeping in mind that these systems may only allow the use of one function at a time – suction, air/water syringe, handpiece.
  3. Portable units may be moved over multiple types of terrain. Consider the wheels size and durability. Is there a built -in carrying system? Is the protective carrying case durable? Does it have enough inside padding?
  4. Think Bigger! Be sure to take a strong look at your needs to ensure your future success. Many first-time entrepreneurs underestimate their level of success and the dental needs in areas or facilities that have previously experienced restricted dental care. Often, they unexpectedly find the need to upgrade their equipment, as they feel the need to expand their services sooner than expected.
  5. Many units do not provide space for storage or tabletop usage. Consider an additional storage system where items can be easily retrieved, in additional, offering placement of an instrument tray, an ultrasonic unit or a curing light.
  6. Review ease of infection control. Are hand pieces detachable and fully autoclavable? Does the design have a minimum number of rough surfaces and ridges? Is the waste purge line long enough? (Minimum of 10 feet.)
  7. Ask if the featured options can be customized. When working with an assistant, there may be a need to have two air/water syringes available. Can a fiber-optic handpiece be used? Is there an external power outlet for additional equipment, such as automated scalers? Are there choices of water bottle capacities? (minimum of 1 liter.) Does the unit accommodate electric or air-driven handpieces?
  8. Ask about available ergonomic options, such as handpieces, air/water syringe or a saddle stool? Is the unit designed with height and reach adjustability in mind? Portable dental care is physically challenging for operators…be as kind to your body as possible. Chances are, your body will wear out before the dental unit!
  9. Take into consideration operating noise levels. While hearing damage can occur at 85dB, OSHA & NIOSH states that 90dB & 85dB, respectively, are acceptable levels for 8 hours of continuous exposure. Consider the location of the work environment and the noise sensitivity of the patients. Also ask at what distance operating nose level measurements were taken.
  10. Understand the maintenance requirements for these self-contained dental units. Does the unit have an internally lubricated motor or is it oil-free? Obviously, oil-free units require less maintenance. Is there a service agreement that can be purchased? Can most long-term maintenance be done on-site or is it required to be done at the factory? What will the downtime be and how often is this required? What is the turn-around time on repairs? This can be particularly burdensome if the equipment is purchased outside of the country.
  11. Discuss and compare warranty conditions. Inquire if an extended warranty package can be purchased, with a loaner available.
  12. Inquire about the vendor’s customer service policy. Since some services may be offered outside of traditional working hours, is there service available during your patient hours?
  13. Ask your vendor for references from existing customers who may be working in a similar setting, offering similar services. Look for online reviews of the specific piece of equipment.

The equipment that is right for you is based upon your particular practice environment. Do the research and ask the right questions, using the 13 tips above, prior to purchase in order to mitigate needless anxiety and enjoy the personal rewards and patient accessibility all the sooner!


About Cindy Purdy, RDH, CEAS

Cindy Purdy, BS, RDH currently practices in a hybrid traditional/virtual dental care in a remote, rural town in the Colorado Rocky Mountains.  Her multiple decades of clinical dental hygiene have fueled her passion for equity of care for her rural patients.  She is the Director of Professional Services for both DNTLworks Equipment, Inc. and Crown Seating, LLC.  She presents Teledentistry and Ergonomics continuing education programs across the country to Registered Dental Hygienists and students, alike.

Adapted from Teledentistry: Pathway to Prosperity Critical Decision Workbook by Patti DiGangi, RDH & Cindy Purdy, RDH.


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