Troubleshooting simple repairs

Oct. 1, 2004
Early in every dentist's schooling, the student is shown a viable, vibrant tooth. The student is acquainted with cuspids, bicuspids, and molars, and what each should look like, free of any irregularity.

Dave Cheney

Early in every dentist's schooling, the student is shown a viable, vibrant tooth. The student is acquainted with cuspids, bicuspids, and molars, and what each should look like, free of any irregularity. From that point on, the teaching centers on restoring teeth that are not intact to wholeness.

Equipment repair is surprisingly similar. The technician knows what a particular item should look like or how it should perform and goes about restoring it to that condition. This practice has been called abstract reasoning — that is, the ability to separate what you see from what you wish to see. Just as a dentist sees a tooth as having separate parts, so a technician sees a chair, unit, or light, and breaks each down to its separate parts and functions. I remember once when a dentist called me and said, "Dave, I took the cover off of my unit and you wouldn't believe all of the stuff that's in there!"

Early in my career in dental-equipment repair, I was "thrown to the wolves" when the small dealer that I had just started working for fired its only trained technician. My first call on my own was on a Cavitron®. I walked in and announced, "I am new at this, but if you will show me what a Cavitron is and tell me how it is supposed to work, I will fix it." In this particular case, the water was not coming out of the tip. I went to the water source and found water there. I then found where the water hooked up to the back of the unit and then flowed into the unit. After wetting down the chair, the hygienist, myself, and the floor, I discovered the handpiece hose was stopped up.

That is how every repair is accomplished, whether on teeth, equipment or a broken paper towel holder. In your mind, you go from what you have to what you want to have, and then attempt to get to that point.

In a hypothetical case, let's say you have no water to your handpieces or syringes and you have a water bottle on the unit. After finding that you have water in the bottle, what do you do next? Air is introduced into the water bottle to force the water out whenever a valve is opened (for handpiece water) or a syringe button is depressed. So, your next step would be to find out if the bottle is being pressurized.

You go to the water bottle and you hear air escaping. The bottle must be losing the air either from lack of a gasket (seal) at the top of the bottle, or a split in the seam of the bottle. In this instance, you know what you want to have (air pressure) and your task is to restore the bottle to that point where air pressure is again present.

What if no air was being fed to the bottle? You would locate the hose that should be supplying the air and investigate it for restrictions or breaks. Again, you progress from what you have to what you want to have.

In my manual, Doctor, Did You Check the Breaker, Too?, I try to tell you, in each case, how something should work. Then, I lead you through the different scenarios that might go awry with the various pieces of equipment in the dental office. My aim is not to convert a dentist or staff member into a technician, but to save you time and a service call on simpler problems. Quite often, a technician will be called to an office, only to find that all that is needed is a water bottle to be tightened or a syringe tip needs to be changed. These types of calls can be averted if you look at each equipment problem and practice a bit of abstract reasoning.

Dave Cheney is a retired service technician from Patterson Dental with over 30 years in the dental industry. He is the author of Doctor, Did You Check the Breaker, Too?, a book that covers just about everything that can go wrong in terms of equipment repairs in a dental office. To order the manual as a book or CD, call (800) 695-0943. You may also order it online through his Web site at

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