Ask Kara RDH: How Often Should I Sharpen My Instruments?

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I am a new grad and started full-time at a new office. The hygienist I replaced sharpened her instruments once a month. I feel that is not nearly enough, but I know this office doesn’t like ordering new instruments often. My concerns are I don’t want to wear down instruments very fast by over-sharpening, and I don’t want to anger anyone by sharpening more than the previous hygienist, and in turn, look bad. How often should I be sharpening my instruments?

Good question, but a tough question! How often to sharpen instruments depends on many variables like how many setups you have, the amount and difficulty of patients you see, the quality of your instruments, etc. Though a bit older, one study has shown that after 15 strokes an instrument begins to dull/show wear with minor beveling. After 45 strokes, bevels of the cutting edge became even larger.1

Using this figure, you may need to sharpen at least once per week or so. I’m not saying you need to sharpen your instruments after only 15 strokes, but it does give some insight. Basically, if you feel you have to apply more pressure for an effective stroke, it’s time to sharpen. Checking instruments on an acrylic test stick to see if the instrument “sticks” or catches the edge, is a good way to test if your instruments are sharp too.

I understand your concern about not wanting to wear your instruments too quickly. That’s a valid concern. However, don’t compare yourself to the previous hygienist. Just because someone does something one way, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the correct or most efficient way.

I must also mention that stainless steel instruments last between 9-18 months, depending on the variables mentioned above. To provide the best care for your patients, and to avoid musculoskeletal injury to yourself, you need functioning, not worn out or dull instruments. Any office you work at needs to provide you proper instruments (and equipment) to do your job effectively. Otherwise, you are working harder, not smarter, and to an office, time is money. Food for thought!

SEE ALSO:  Ask Kara RDH: Inadequate Instruments when Temping

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  1. Tal, H., Panno, J.M., Vaidyanathan, T.K. Scanning Electron Microscope Evaluation of Wear of Dental Curettes During Standardized Root Planing. Journal of Periodontology. 1985; 56(9): 532-536.


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Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP
Kara Vavrosky, RDHEP, is a co-founder and the chief content officer of Today’s RDH, an independent educational publishing company for dental hygienists, encompassing articles, a podcast, virtual continuing education events, and self-study continuing education. Today’s RDH was launched in 2018 after Kara built her social media presence with her largest following on her Facebook page, Dental Hygiene with Kara RDH, which was created in 2013. An Oregon Institute of Technology graduate, Kara has a deep passion for spreading knowledge about the importance of oral health and its association with systemic health. Kara’s passion extends to helping other hygienists understand current protocols and evidence-based research – all with the goal of lifting dental hygienists and the dental hygiene profession. Kara was recognized in 2020 as one of the Top 100 Women in Media for her entrepreneurship as a co-founder of Today’s RDH. In 2022, she was recognized by the American Dental Hygienists’ Association for their Standout Seven Award in the Entrepreneur category. Kara lives in Vancouver, Washington, just outside Portland, Oregon, with her husband, Ben, and their four Chihuahuas. When she’s not working, Kara loves riding the Oregon Dunes on her quad, spoiling her Chihuahuas, and spending time with her close-knit family.