Sitting pretty



A dental chair is one of the most expensive pieces of equipment in a practice. So how long does a chair last? Frank Leggett investigates

Your dental chair is at the heart of your practice. It sits in the middle of the surgery like a throne and is the one piece of equipment that is used by every patient who walks through your door. This workhorse of the surgery is the yardstick many patients use to judge your entire practice, so how often should it be replaced?

“Each case is individual but we find that the general rule of thumb is every five to seven years,” says Ryan Green, general manger of William Green, a dental equipment supplier and manufacturer located in Rydalmere, NSW. “However, it’s not unusual for us to service a Challenge Air 90ic or Tantus chair that is 15 to 20 years old and still functioning.”

According to Jane Somes, it depends on the chair. The sales representative at Dental Intelligence in Osborne Park, WA explains: “We sell A-dec chairs and they have a very good reputation. We put them out in the country areas because they’re so reliable. They don’t need to be replaced as frequently and have fewer maintenance issues.”

The high cost of a quality dental chair sometimes sees dentists considering a cheap imported chair from China or Korea. But is there value in such a purchase? Dr Martin Pynor of Clare Dental in South Australia recently purchased a high-quality A-dec chair to replace a cheapie that had been used in his practice for 10 years. “We have six surgeries and the cheap chair was used less frequently than all the others,” he says. “In all honesty, it never really functioned well and I wouldn’t purchase something like that again. You’re better off spending a bit more but not necessarily on the top-of-the-range option. If you have a massive cost, then that chair has to generate the income to cover it.”

Practices most commonly update to a new chair during a renovation or when moving location. However, all dental chairs suffer from wear and tear, and breakdowns are unavoidable. A good indicator that your chair might need replacing is if the maintenance person is starting to feel like a member of staff.

Dr Alexander Lam of Dernacourt Dental Surgery in South Australia recently purchased a new Planmeca Compact iTouch chair. “By investing in a high-quality chair, you minimise maintenance issues and the number of breakdowns,” he says. “If your current chair has consistent problems leading to excessive downtime, you need to consider how much income you are losing.”

Money spent on a new chair allows the dentist to work more efficiently, effectively and consistently, and the investment will pay for itself pretty quickly.

“These patients have told me that the old dental chair and equipment in the other practice didn’t give them a feeling of confidence or hygiene. They were much more comfortable in my renovated surgery.”—Dr Alexander Lam, Dernacourt Dental Surgery, SA

In addition, patient comfort should never be underestimated or overlooked. The dental chair is the one piece of equipment that patients will remember and use to judge your entire practice. If they sit in the chair and are uncomfortable, get a crick in their neck or are jerked around as the chair moves, then that’s enough to lose them forever.

“A patient’s connection with a practice is often not about the quality of the dental work,” says Jane Somes. “It’s the incidental things that can make them decide whether they return or not. Something as simple as feeling comfortable in a dental chair can have a huge impact on a patient’s opinion. It only takes 10 minutes to know whether you like a practice and 10 years to know if your dentist is doing good work.”

A new chair also lets you take advantage of the latest advances in technology. Older chairs were pneumatic driven, but new models use microprocessor-controlled electronics. Like all current devices, dental chairs are also becoming ‘smarter’. Dentists can now program individual handpiece lines to conduct certain treatments or processes and the chair will remember those settings.

“Newer chairs facilitate a smooth workflow,” says Ryan Green. “Every time a dentist picks up a high-speed fibre-optic line, the unit knows to turn on the water spray and set turbine pressure at 100 per cent. When they put that handpiece down and pick up the slow speed, the unit will then turn the water spray off and utilise a slower RPM. Sometimes it’s quite a small improvement but if you’ve been toggling the water on and off with a foot control for the past decade, you suddenly realise the impact a little smart technology can have.”

It is simply good business practice to ensure a new dental chair comes with a nice long warranty. “As an equipment seller, I know how important warranties are,” says Somes. “If a practice is busy, the chair will be in constant use and things will invariably wear down.”

Dental professionals are highly susceptible to back and neck pain but thankfully, ergonomics in chair design has greatly improved in recent years. Side-lift technology creates a clear space under the chair so the dentist can gain better access to the patient. A smaller footprint has seen high-tech chairs suitable for smaller surgeries. Most chairs now have a greater range of movement and the ability to easily achieve a comfortable working height.

Coupling these improvements in ergonomics with modern stools, saddle seats and chairs has vastly increased the comfort of dentists, hygienists and nurses.

A new dental chair also makes a good impression on patients,” says Somes, adding that “it’s a good idea to update your cabinetry at the same time you update your chair. When a patient is sitting in the chair and looking around your surgery, they should see a sleek, uncluttered room that instills a sense of confidence.”

Every procedure takes place in the dental chair and every patient experiences your practice from the chair. If you’re planning to upgrade, it’s important to think ahead. Don’t buy the chair you need now—buy the chair you’ll need in five years’ time.

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