Single Use Items

Dental practice staff must be aware of the implications of not understanding the difference between re-usable and single-use medical devices or items.

Single-Use and Re-Useable Items

If a medical device or item displays the following symbol on the packaging then it is deemed to be single use only.


The definition of this is: Do not re-use.


A single-use device is used on an individual patient during a single procedure and then discarded. It is not intended to be reprocessed and used again, even on the same patient.

Reuse of these devices can be unsafe because of risk of:

  • Cross-infection
    Inability to properly clean and decontaminate due to design.
  • Endotoxin reaction
    Excessive bacterial breakdown products, which cannot be adequately removed by cleaning.
  • Patient injury
    Device failure from reprocessing or reuse because of fatigue, material alteration and embrittlement.
  • Chemical burns or sensitisation
    Residues from chemical decontamination agents on materials that can absorb/adsorb chemicals.

If a practice were to reuse a single-use device the practice may become legally liable for the effectiveness and safe performance of the device, instead of the manufacturer.

Examples of Single Use Devices

Examples of single-use medical devices include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • Endodontic reamers and files
  • Saliva ejectors
  • Aspirator tips and three-in-one tips
  • Dental burs
  • Matrix bands
  • Single use gloves
  • Single use face masks

Where instruments are difficult to clean considerations should be made to replacing them to single use items where possible.

Re-usable Medical Devices

There are a number of medical devices that are manufactured for limited reuse for the individual to whom they are initially supplied; ‘single patient use’ and for instruments that have a limited life; ‘limited use instruments’. Staff who use or supply these devices to patients must understand all of the requirements for their safe use and disposal.

It is important for individuals to recognise the difference between ‘single use’ and ‘single patient use’ particularly in practices where Endodontic files and reamers may be reused on the same patient

It is the responsibility of all interested parties to control and monitor stock levels to ensure that sufficient single-use devices are present within each practice 

It is the responsibility of the Dental Surgeon and Nurse to ensure that single-use devices are used only in the way directed by the instructions. 

Re-useable medical devices should always be decontaminated in accordance with the manufacturer's instructions.

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