The importance of routine maintenance with your ultrasonic scaler.
Are you having trouble getting water out of your ultrasonic scaler? Clogging is a frequent problem with ultrasonic scalers. We hear complaints of no or low water flow almost every day.
Ultrasonic scalers use a lot of water, but also generate a lot of heat, especially magnetostrictive scalers (for more information on type of ultrasonic scalers, check out Practice Tips #10), and they have very small water lines (1/16” i.d.). These factors combine to create ideal breeding grounds for biofilm formation.
To help avoid clogging, routine maintenance of your ultrasonic scaler is crucial.
To reduce the number of bacteria Colony Forming Units (CFU’s) in your water lines, there are a number of protocols to follow, including installing self-contained water systems (see Practice Tips #55) which shows how easy this can be) and adding a solution (Sterilex or Blu Tabs) to the water. Simply reducing the bacteria count in your water line can be a great first step in reducing the incidence of clogs in your water line.
Additionally, putting a filter on your water inlet will further reduce the debris in the water line and lower the likelihood of clogs. There are a number of good filters you can use.
First, there is the time-honored brass filter (#49-50- see image below). These have traditionally been used in the junction box, but are readily installed on the ¼” o.d. lines commonly used to supply water to ultrasonic scalers. These filters are inexpensive and easy to install. However, the filter housing is opaque, so it’s not easy to monitor the condition of the filter and the brass housing is fairly heavy so it will pull on the tubing. These filters typically filter out particles as small as 35 microns (µm), so they catch a lot of fine debris. The fittings on this filter are not integral, so they can be swapped out for other fittings (such as #14-08) to attach to other sizes of tubing as well.
Some of the other fittings that can be used with the #49-50 filter are:
Dentsply™ often provides a disc-type luer lock filter (#49-57- see image below) with their units. These filters are often used in the medical community to filter IV lines or in similar applications. These filters offer fine particle filtration and are rated to remove particles as small as 20 µm. With these filters, the filter element is permanently locked in a filter housing, making filter changes very quick and easy. However, the filter housing must then be discarded with the filter element, adding to the expense of the filter cartridge. The filter housing is transparent, so it’s easy to monitor the condition of the filter making it easier to know when to change the cartridge.
Last of all, American Dental Accessories, Inc. offers a transparent inline filter (#49-54- see image below), which is easily installed on ¼” o.d. lines with barbed fittings. This filter removes particles as small as 10 µm to provide superior performance. The filter element is also removable from the housing greatly reducing the cost of filter replacement (#49-541). The housing is crystal clear, so it’s still a simple matter to monitor the condition of the filter element.
Controlling water quality through the use of self-contained water systems, water treatment and filters, can all help to reduce clogging of your ultrasonic scaler, but what else can be done?
As already mentioned, the small and frequently heated lines of your ultrasonic scaler are fantastic breeding grounds for biofilm. Biofilm grows in warm, stagnant water. A simple solution to biofilm growth is to remove the water from your ultrasonic scaler. At the end of every day, connect the water line to an air source (you can use a handpiece hose if you have our etcher adapter) and un the unit until all the water is expelled.
You can also add an air quick disconnect (as outlined in Practice Tip #49 and Practice Tip #4, just tap into an air line instead of a water line), so you can quickly plug the unit into an air outlet. Mark the air quick disconnect with a tracer washer to avoid confusion. If you have air quick disconnects, you can even add an air purge (i.e. blowing the lines dry with air) to your routine after every use of the ultrasonic scaler.
By taking these simple precautions and adding them to your routine maintenance you can keep your ultrasonic units working well.