Disposable and reusable instruments in dental health practice: A comparison of cost factors in a public provider organization in Queensland, Australia

P. Marcin Sowa*, Jonas Fooken, Kelly McGowan, Stephen Birch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Objectives: Choosing between reusable instruments (RIs) and disposable instruments (DIs) for dental care provision requires a careful consideration of costs and their contributing factors, alongside other choice criteria. This study aimed to assess the current use of instruments in the West Moreton Oral Health Service (WMOHS) in Queensland, Australia, with a broader goal of informing future practice in this and comparable organizations.

Methods: A cost model was developed reflecting costs arising from procurement, reprocessing and disposal, depending on the RI and DI composition of instrumentation. The current practice in WMOHS was compared to modular (RI-only and DI-only) strategies by considering four standard instrument sets (examination, simple extraction, surgical extraction, restoration) and the annual use of instruments in the organization at large. The use of resources (water, electricity) and emissions (waste) were quantified for each strategy. The robustness of findings was explored across a range of scenarios that involved varying instrument prices, lifespans, factors impacting on the cost of reprocessing (labour, water, energy), the cost of waste disposal and couriering.

Results: At the organization level, the current mix of instruments (A$1.28 m per year) was 4% more costly than the lower cost, RI-only alternative (A$1.23 m). However, with lower DI prices or higher labour costs current practice would become the lowest cost option. Results for specific instrument sets varied by service type. DI-only offered the lowest cost option for oral examinations (A$6.29), and the current practice of mixed instrumentation for simple extractions (A$16.56). RI-only sets were less costly in more resource intensive procedures such as surgical extractions (A$40.19) and restorations (A$43.83). In terms of environmental impacts, the use of instruments based on current practice required 37% of water and energy use of an RI-only alternative and generated 36% waste of the DI-only alternative.

Conclusions: Reusable instruments are generally less costly than DIs, but for specific instrument sets the outcome depends on the type of procedure. In some circumstances, mixed instrumentation can provide the lowest cost alternative. While the WMOHS instrument mix used in current practice does not minimize cost for the provider, it may be justified in light of operational risks, logistics and uncertainty regarding cost factors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)794-803
Number of pages10
JournalCommunity Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology
Issue number5
Early online date5 Jun 2022
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

© 2022 The Authors. Community Dentistry and Oral Epidemiology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • cost
  • economic evaluation
  • environmental impact
  • reprocessing
  • reusable instruments
  • single-use devices
  • waste


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