Preventive Care

Dull and Dangerous: Why Keeping Your Dental Instruments Sharp Matters

By Dalia Lai, RDH, BS on August, 5 2021
Dull and Dangerous: Why Keeping Your Dental Instruments Sharp Matters
Dalia Lai, RDH, BS

Based out of Sacramento, Calif., author Dalia Lai, RDH, BS is a fan of double-duty products such as fluoride varnish. She is also the founder of Fresh Takes, A Continuing Education Co. Learn more online at or on Instagram at @freshtakesed.

When you’re in hygiene school, the information you’re consuming can be like drinking water out of a fire hydrant. You know in the back of your mind, and maybe you’ve heard it from colleagues who have been practicing for a long time, that the “real world” is not like hygiene school, or that there are skills you’ll eventually let go by the wayside because there is just not enough time in the day.

But what if I told you that there is a skill you learn in hygiene school that could save you time, energy and money1? Would you keep practicing it, no matter what?

That all-important skill I am talking about is instrument sharpening.

The consequences of dull dental instruments are dangerous for you, your patients and the dental practice2. Let’s break it down:

Dangerous for you:

  • When you have a dull tool, you lose the sensitivity of the working end3 of the instrument, leading to missed or burnished calculus1.
  • Keeping your instrument sharp will help reduce the number of times you stroke to remove the calculus, which decreases the strain on your wrist and forearms4 over time, thereby minimizing the onset of the musculoskeletal disorders that are rampant in the dental industry1,6,7.

Dangerous for your patients:

  • Missed or burnished calculus due to a dull instrument can continue to negatively affect a patient’s oral health1.
  • Multiple strokes to remove calculus with a dull instrument can fatigue a patient.

Dangerous for your practice:

  • Replacing instruments is more expensive for your practice’s bottom line than taking care of the ones you have5.
  • Removing calculus with a dull blade takes additional strokes, and therefore additional time. Taking a few minutes per week to sharpen your instruments will reduce operating time6.

In a profession where the language of preventive treatment is often spoken, it can be disheartening when you discover that colleagues around the world forgo the important skill of keeping sharp instruments, resulting in a cascade of consequences. Consider this your wakeup call.

The most common barriers to sharpening instruments comes down to time and not having enough of it1. Other barriers to keeping instruments sharp include not remembering how, having an older/over-sharpened instrument and financial burden to the practice1.

There are, however, ways to address these barriers for the sake of a more ergonomic and effective appointment. Try rotating your instrument setups every quarter, putting some out of commission so they can be sharpened. Perhaps try booking a “sharpening party” with your colleagues so that everyone in the office can join you in maintaining effective instruments. Don’t be afraid to negotiate with your employer, too, as a sharp instrument has many positive benefits to the production of a practice. Invest in equipment or services that make sharpening your instruments safe and accurate.

Professional Sharpening Support

  • American Eagle Instruments: their line of XP Sharpen-Free instruments never need to be sharpened! They even have a line of Quik-Tip instruments where just the tips can be swapped out on your existing handle for newer, sharper ones.
  • Hu-Friedy: this company will sharpen your instruments for you. Talk to your employer about this time-saving service.

Sharpening Assistants

There will be a lot of things that you will learn, unlearn and relearn about being a dental hygienist after you leave school, but none is more important than keeping your instruments sharp. I hope you feel inspired and empowered to stay sharp!



  1. DeStefano AW. The Dangers of Dull Instruments. RDH Magazine. Published December 1, 2018. Accessed June 4, 2021.
  2. 2011 Instrument Survey. DentistryIQ. Published August 5, 2011. Accessed June 4, 2021.
  3. HuFriedy. Anatomy of a Dental Instrument. HuFriedy. Published March 2019. Accessed June 4, 2021.
  4. Gupta A, Bhat M, Mohammed T, Bansal N, Gupta G. Ergonomics in dentistry. International journal of clinical pediatric dentistry. Published January 2014. Accessed June 4, 2021.
  5. Hu-Friedy. Hu-Friedy Launches Exclusive Subscription Sharpening Service for Busy Dental Professionals. Published October 10, 2018. Accessed June 4, 2021.
  6. Lowe A. The cutting edge of dental instruments. Nature News. Published September 2010. Accessed June 4, 2021.
  7. Johnson, C.R. & Kanji, Zul. (2016). The impact of occupation-related musculoskeletal disorders on dental hygienists. Canadian Journal of Dental Hygiene. 50. 72-79.
American Eagle Instruments Catalog

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