Management of dental unit waterline biofilms in the 21st century

Future Microbiol. 2011 Oct;6(10):1209-26. doi: 10.2217/fmb.11.104.


Dental chair units (DCUs) use water to cool and irrigate DCU-supplied instruments and tooth surfaces, and provide rinsewater during dental treatment. A complex network of interconnected plastic dental unit waterlines (DUWLs) supply water to these instruments. DUWLs are universally prone to microbial biofilm contamination seeded predominantly from microorganisms in supply water. Consequently, DUWL output water invariably becomes contaminated by high densities of microorganisms, principally Gram-negative environmental bacteria including Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Legionella species, but sometimes contain human-derived pathogens such as Staphylococcus aureus. Patients and staff are exposed to microorganisms from DUWL output water and to contaminated aerosols generated by DCU instruments. A wide variety of approaches, many unsuccessful, have been proposed to control DUWL biofilm. More recently, advances in biofilm science, chemical DUWL biofilm treatment agents, DCU design, supply water treatment and development of automated DUWL biofilm control systems have provided effective long-term solutions to DUWL biofilm control.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biofilms / growth & development*
  • Dental Equipment / microbiology*
  • Detergents / pharmacology
  • Disinfectants / pharmacology
  • Equipment Contamination*
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / drug effects
  • Gram-Negative Bacteria / growth & development
  • Humans
  • Infection Control, Dental / methods*
  • Staphylococcus aureus / drug effects
  • Staphylococcus aureus / growth & development
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water Supply*


  • Detergents
  • Disinfectants