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Dental Handpieces and Other Devices Attached to Air and Waterlines

How should dental handpieces and other devices attached to air and waterlines be reprocessed between patients?

Handpieces and other intraoral instruments that can be removed from the air and waterlines of dental units are considered semicritical devices. In addition, studies show that the internal portions of high-speed handpieces and low-speed handpiece motors can become contaminated and that it is possible for retained patient material to be released into the mouths of subsequent patients. Therefore, handpieces and other intraoral instruments should be removed from the air and waterlines of dental units, cleaned, and heat-sterilized between patients. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for cleaning, lubrication, and sterilization. Do not surface-disinfect, submerge in liquid chemical sterilants, or barrier-protect these instruments because these methods cannot adequately clean, disinfect, or sterilize the internal components.

These instruments include, but are not limited to, high-speed, low-speed, electric, endodontic, and surgical handpieces, as well as all handpiece motors and attachments such as reusable prophylaxis angles, nosecones, and contra-angles.


CDC. Guidelines for infection control in dental health-care settings – 2003. MMWR 2003; 52(No. RR-17):1–66. [PDF-1.2M]. Accessed March 17, 2016.

Chin JR, Miller CH, Palenik CJ. Internal contamination of air-driven low-speed handpieces and attached prophy angles. J Am Dent Assoc 2006;137:1275–1280.

Chin JR, Westerman AE, Palenik CJ, Eckert SG. Contamination of handpieces during pulpotomy therapy on primary teeth. Pediatr Dent 2009;31:71–75.

Harte JA, Molinari JA. Sterilization procedures and monitoring. In: Molinari JA, Harte JA eds. Cottone’s Practical Infection Control in Dentistry, 3rd ed. Baltimore: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2009: 148–170.

Herd S, Chin J, Palenik CJ, Ofner S. The in vivo contamination of air-driven low-speed handpieces with prophylaxis angles. J Am Dent Assoc 2007;138:1360–1365.

Rutala WA, Weber DJ, and the Healthcare Infection Control Practices Advisory Committee. Guideline for disinfection and sterilization in healthcare facilities, 2008:1–158. [PDF-948K]. Accessed March 17, 2016.