The dental compressor is most likely not your main concern when going to the dentist for your yearly check. But studies have shown that the air that your dentist uses to blow dry your teeth isn't always very healthy for you.
You might not have thought about it, but somewhere in your dentist clinic is a compressor that supplies the compressed air for all his 'work stations'. It's not different from an ordinary workshop, only this time the compressor needs some extra special attention.
What is a dental compressor exactly?
So what makes a dental compressor so special? The air that is produced by the compressor is used directly in human mouths. They will inhale the air and swallow any contaminations that is within the compressed air. Of course, the compressor and the compressed air must meet the highest possible standards!
Oil in air
Not a nice thought: oil in your mouth. If the compressed air coming from the dental air compressor would contain oil, not only would this give a bad taste in your mouth, it would be a high safety concern. Also, oil in the air will facilitate dirt and bacteria build up in the compressed air system.
In the old days, dentist had no other choice than to buy a oil-lubricated compressor and use filters in the compressed air line to filter out any oil in liquid or vapor form. But, with filters you can never be 100% sure. Filters will get old and require replacement in time, before they deteriorate.
Nowadays, a whole range of oil-free compressors is available on the market. Oil-free compressors have the big advantage that they are 100% oil-free, so there is zero chance of oil in the compressed air system. Why first contaminate the air, to clean it up again later with filters, when you can create clean compressed air with an oil-free compressor?
There is however one downside to oil-free compressors: corrosion. The oil in oil-lubricated compressors will create a protective film of oil inside the air receiver and air piping. But still, an oil-free compressor would be highly favorable over an oil-lubricated one. There are galvanized or stainless steel air receivers available nowadays, as well as plastic compressed air piping, which will eliminate the problem of corrosion.
Water in air
Water in the compressed air is a common problem in compressed air system, and it is especially a big concern for dental air systems.
Of course, you won't taste a little water in the compressed air, nor will it be toxic. But, water in the compressed air system will increase the risk of bacteria growth. So you really want to have water-free air coming from your compressor.
For this reason, a dental compressor should be equipped with an compressed air dryer. There are different types of air dryers available, mainly refrigerated and desiccant. But I would recommend the adsorption air dryer (also called desiccant compressed air dryer).
Refrigerated compressed air dryers will only give you a pressure dew point of minimum 2 degrees. This means that below two degrees, water condensate will form on the inside of your equipment. This kind of dewpoint is nice for tools and grinders in a workshop, but is not low enough for a dental compressor.
Desiccant compressed air dryers will create a much lower pressure dewpoint, as low as minus 40 degrees or more. This means that the relative humidity in the compressed air system, and the absolute amount of water in the air (grams/m3) is also very low.
With such a low relative humidity and a completely dry air receiver and piping system, the chance of bacteria grow is very low.
What other features does a dental compressor need to have?
Besides producing clean air (no oil, no water), a dental compressor has some other features that are a must-have for many dentists.
As they are installed in a clean clinic, in a office-like environment (as opposed to an industrial environment), the compressor needs to be quiet, small and work on a standard 220 / 100 volt power outlet.
As the dentist will be busy with its everyday job of fixing peoples teeth, he won't be very concerned with compressor maintenance. So a maintenance free compressor would be ideal.
When buying a compressor, also make sure that the output (the amount of air it can produce per minute or hour) is right for you. A too-small compressor will give you problem for the obvious reason that the pressure will drop when too many people use air at once.
But a too big compressor can also cause problems. If the compressor is so big that it only runs for 5 minutes a day, every other day, than problems with corrosion can occur, as the compressor never gets the chance to run for some time and get hot. It's like when you lie in your bed all day for a year... you'll get slow, lazy, tired.
Installation location: important!
A dental air compressor is typically installed in one of two locations: a small one inside each chair, or a big one in a central location.
Often, the location of the compressor is not given too much though. Many times it's installed in a boiler room or basement. Don't do this.
The quality of the air produced is as good as the quality of the air that is sucked in. In a hot, damp boiler room, or in a cold and damp basement, the chances of dirt water an bacteria growth in the compressed air system is much higher.
Install the compressor in a place where it can suck in clean air and where you can easily reach it for maintenance. Dental compressors are so quiet nowadays, that there is no need to hide it in the basement anymore.
In some countries or states, a compressor permit is need when installing a compressor of certain size (for example a tank size of 100liters or more) or pressure rating (for example more than 13 bar) inside a residential area. Please check with your local authorities if this is the case in your area.
In some countries it is required that the dental compressor has the right cetfiication. For example TUV, CE, AOTC or ISPESL. Please check with your local authorities.