Breaking the Status-Quo: Constructing a Hygiene Instrument Kit for YOUR needs – Part 3: Universal Curettes

It may seem like in the world of dental hygiene instruments there is an overwhelming number of number of universal curettes to choose from, but there are really a few basic styles and variations in blade width, shank length and bends for each style. By starting with what you are using now and talking about what you like and don’t like, we can easily find the perfect universal curette for you. Please note that Gracey Curettes will not be covered in this post, and you should check back soon for more information regarding Gracey’s.

Traditionally the most popular universal curette has been the Columbia 13-14. It is the shortest shank universal curette and very similar to a 204S scaler with a rounded toe instead of a pointed tip. While the Columbia 13-14 is still common, the Barnhart 5-6 has now become the most popular universal curette. The Barnhart 5-6 features the same bends as the Columbia, so it feels very similar when adapting to the tooth. However the Barnhart terminal shank is a medium length at 10 mm long, as opposed to the short 8 mm shank of the Columbia. This medium length terminal shank seems to fit very well with most hygienists, providing enough reach to comfortably reach all posterior surfaces, while not being too long to feel awkward or like you need to position your middle finger down onto the shank of the instrument. The blade of the Barnhart 5-6 is slightly thinner than the Columbia, which provides easier insertion into the gingival pocket and improved access to deeper pockets. However, that same Barnhart 5-6 tip is available with thinner blades in the Barnhart 5S-6S and thicker blades in the Barnhart 5R-6R.

Columbia 13-14

The McCall 13-14 universal curette is similar to the rigid version of the Barnhart, the 5R-6R. The McCall terminal shank is 1 mm shorter and the blade is elliptical in shape and features an accentuated curvature. The McCall 13S-14S and the IU 13-14 are versions of the McCall 13-14 that have pointed tips as opposed to rounded toes, the IU 13-14 having a longer (13 mm) terminal shank.

The Rule 3-4 and the Ratcliff 3-4 both originate at the University of California. Both of these instruments feature the same 10 mm terminal shank as the Barnhart 5-6. However, in both cases, the blades are offset more from the instrument handle, about 45⁰ as opposed to 33⁰. The Ratcliff also features a slightly thinner blade.

Ratcliff #3-4
Ratcliff 3-4

For those that are looking for maximum reach into the posterior and don’t mind very long shanks, there is the Columbia 4R-4L curette. The Columbia 4R-4L has a 12 mm long terminal shank and the Columbia 2R-2L has a 14 mm terminal shank, but proceed with care. Both of these curettes have elliptical blades that are 50% wider (1.2 mm) than the Barnhart 5-6. If you are looking for a long terminal shank with a thin blade, the Barnhart 1-2 would be for you. The Barnhart 1-2 has the same thin blade (0.8 mm) as the Barnhart 5-6. However, the Barnhart 1-2 has the longest shank of any universal curette, at 16 mm. Keep in mind that such a long, thin shank will provide a lot of flex and when combined with the thin blade, the Barnhart 1-2 is best suited for light to moderate calculus.

Barnhart 5S-6S

All of the curettes we have discussed so far have straight shanks and angular bends in the tips. When hygienists are using one of the above and tell us they would like a curette that gives them better reach around distal surfaces, we suggest one of the four universal designs with curved terminal shanks and blades.

  • The Younger Good 7-8 and the McCall 17-18 both have elliptical shaped blades. The Younger Good is the shorter, smaller version and has a thinner blade (1 mm). The larger version is the McCall 17-18. The entire tip and the curved terminal shank are much longer than the Younger Good and the blade is slightly wider (1.2 mm).
Younger Good 7-8
  • The McCall 17S-18S and the IU 17-18 are variations of the McCall 17-18. The main difference is both the McCall 17S-18S and the IU 17-18 have blades that are not elliptical in shape, but have parallel cutting edges. Most hygienists find these blade designs slide more easily into the pocket.
McCall 17S-18S
  • The final category of universal curettes are Langer curettes. Langer curettes confuse many hygienists because the tips are shaped and bent like Gracey curettes, but the blades are universal, meaning both sides of the blade have sharp cutting edges. However, Langer curettes can be quite versatile in a practiced hand.
  • The Langer 1-2 has tips with the same shanks and bends as the Gracey 11-12, with universal blades. It is designed to be used on all posterior root surfaces in the maxillary. The Langer 3-4 has the same tip design as the Gracey 13-14, again with universal blades, and it is designed to be used on all posterior root surfaces in the mandibular.  The Langer 5-6 tips mirror the Gracey 5-6 tips and it is designed to be used on all anterior root surfaces, both upper and lower. The Langer 17-18 is a recent extension to the Langer series. It features the severe bends of the Gracey 17-18, which are designed to provide easier access to hard to reach posterior surfaces in both the maxillary and the mandibular.
Langer #17-18
Langer 17-18