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What are Rongeurs?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 25 August 2016
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Rongeurs are surgical instruments which are designed to chip, crack, or cut away bone and tough tissue such as cartilage. The term comes from a French word meaning “rodent,” a reference to the fact that rongeurs are designed to gnaw away at tissue and bone, under the control of a surgeon. In addition to being used in surgery, rongeurs are also employed by dentists, and they can be used in some other settings as well; for example, sometimes cooks work with tools similar to rongeurs when they are butchering meat.

The shape of a rongeur can vary. These instruments tend to have curved, sharp tips which can be used to gouge out bone. Many are designed like forceps, allowing a surgeon to grip at tissue of interest and carefully tear it away. Others are solid tools which can be used to chip bone or tough tissue to gain access to a surgical site or to clear away excess material. Some are spring loaded to create more force for gripping and tugging.

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Dentists can use these tools to chip away dental tartar, and to crack it off the teeth, if necessary. Wherever they are used, rongeurs must be carefully controlled to avoid taking off more tissue or bone than one intends. These instruments are very tough and strong, and it is easy to be more forceful with them than one has intended. Users tend to err on the side of caution, working on removal of small chips instead of large pieces.

People may refer to rongeurs as rongeur forceps when they are designed in a forceps style. Other terms may be used to refer to specialized types of rongeurs. Surgeons like to have specific terms to use for the tools they need so that when they ask a surgical assistant for a tool, they can be assured that the assistant will know precisely which tool to grab.

Like other instruments used in surgery, rongeurs are designed to be sterilized. Sterilization is important, to minimize the risk of cross-contamination between patients. These tools may also be sharpenable, allowing a surgeon to send instruments out for sharpening so that they will continue to be efficient and effective. Because rongeurs can sometimes come into contact with bone marrow, there may be settings in which the instruments need to be disposed of after use. Bone marrow can house prions, rogue proteins which can cause disease and resist known sterilization techniques. Patients with prion disease or at risk of such diseases may pass these diseases on via surgical and dental instruments.

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