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Dentist-inventor develops no-hassle waterline solution

Dr. M. Joseph Olk is a private practitioner. Like many dentists, he began hearing about biofilm and dental unit waterline contamination in the mid 1990s. He followed the 1993 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, flushing his lines for two to three minutes at the beginning of the clinic day and for 20 to 30 seconds between patients, and his dental units were engineered for antiretraction. Nonetheless, he decided to test the water coming out of his three municipally plumbed dental units.

The results were surprising and disturbing. He found tens of thousands of microorganisms coming out of all three units. “Even with air-purging every night, one of the hygiene handpiece lines yielded more than 30,000 organisms,” says Dr. Olk.

The 1995 American Dental Association (ADA) on Dental Unit Waterlines set the goal that unfiltered output water should contain less than 200 colony-forming units of aerobic, heterotrophic, mesophilic bacteria per milliliter (CFU/ml) of water. But the ADA goal was directed at the manufacturers, encouraging development of devices, protocols, and equipment to improve water quality. Aside from stopgap recommendations like flushing and purging, guidance for clinicians was scarce, and few — if any — simple, cost-effective solutions were available.

Intent on finding a better way to deliver clean water for patient care, Dr. Olk began working with his brother-in-law, Michael G. Koontz, PE, a mechanical engineer. Koontz’s company, Kansas City Deaerator, manufactures devices that remove the free oxygen from water for use in power plants and factories. Theorizing that removing oxygen from dental unit water would starve the aerobic bacteria inhabiting the lines, they developed the Waterclave system.

Custom-plumbed to the municipal water source to serve up to 40 dental units, a single Waterclave water purifier treats water with extremely high temperatures. Similar to an autoclave, it uses intense heat and pressure to rid water of viable bacteria. In addition, the deoxygented water seemingly retards regrowth in treated lines.

The Waterclave eliminates the need for retrofits, independent reservoir systems, distilled water storage, point-of-use filters, and frequent chemical treatment. Best of all, notes Dr. Olk, the Waterclave consistently delivers treatment water containing 0 CFU/ml bacteria for up to 18 months with a single chemical treatment.

“In older units, we’ve found we can go three to six months between chemical treatments without achieving growth. In new units, we’re up to 30 months with 0 growth from our samples,” he states. Almost any chemical recommended by the dental unit manufacturer can be used; it is simply added to the Waterclave unit, which then loads the lines for cleaning. “It’s much faster and simpler than emptying, cleaning, filling, and refilling bottles once a week on each chair,” he states.

Although the Waterclave requires an initial investment and some plumbing work, Dr. Olk has found his system to be more cost-effective than other devices and protocols. “Filters have to be changed every five to seven days, and you have to use a chemical weekly to treat the biofilm in the tubing. If you’re in an area where water quality is questionable for dental care, you may even need to use sterile or distilled water in your unit,” he notes. “When I totaled the costs of all the chemicals and devices I would have to use, then added in the time I’d have to pay my staff to perform the protocols, I was looking at costs of $3,000 to $5,000 per operatory each year,” he calculates.

The Waterclave was cleared for market by the Food and Drug Administration in August 2000. Since then, Dr. Olk and his partner have installed numerous units in private practices in Dallas and across southern Illinois. Most recently, systems have been placed in the Dallas-Fort Worth Veterans Hospital and the Southern Illinois University Dental School. The Waterclave also has been designated a Top 100 product of 2001 by Dental Products Report.

“The Waterclave not only meets but exceeds the ADA goal without the costs and hassles of other chemicals and devices,” says Dr. Olk.

For information on the Waterclave water purifier, call 913-312-5860 or visit

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6731 West 121st Street
Overland Park, Kansas 66209
Tel: 913.312.5860
Fax: 913.312.5861