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Dental Air Compressors: What to Look For & Choosing the Right One

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Air compressors are a very important piece of any dental office, as they’re used to power many of the important tools. Selecting the right air compressor for your dental office can be difficult, if you choose the wrong one, you could potentially expose your patients to harm.

It’s important to select an air compressor with the best air quality possible. This article will provide a guide on what you need to look for in a dental compressor, to ensure that you come away with the best one possible for your dental office.

Table of Contents

Dental Air Compressor Air Quality Importance

The most important element of what to look for in a dental air compressor has be to the quality of the air that’s produced. High-quality air is important for the safety of your patients and the other equipment in your practice. The cleaner the air your compressor creates and uses, the safer your patients will be.

Dental office air compressors are often at risk of exposure to bacteria, microorganisms, and pathogens. When equipment is producing poor-quality air, or it’s improperly generating a moist environment in machine parts, you could be creating a breeding ground for these exposures.

Moisture and contamination can also negatively interact with compounds used in restorations and lead to premature breakdown. This will result in increased repair work and downtime that will, and like dental carries, rot away profits if left untreated.

Investing in a good air compressor with proper dryers, and filters, will not only help keep your patients safe but also help protect your dental practice, by reducing the chance of causing an illness and facing potential litigation that can close your doors.

Protecting Pneumatic Dental Tools

Dental tools are very expensive and tend to be quite delicate. High-quality air is not just safer for patients but it also keeps tools working as they should for far longer. On average, it is estimated that a dentist will spend around $50,000 on clinical supplies every year, therefore, the importance of taking care of these supplies is vital.

The more you have to replace damaged equipment, the more costs will have an impact on your business’s growth. Medical supplies are always very costly, and dental tools are no exception. Air-driven tools, although less expensive than electronic types, also tend to be very delicate. Their internal impellers, couplings, and bearings are extremely susceptible to corrosion and contamination that can take them out of circulation, resulting in lost profits.

Electronic tools tend to be of greater cost due to their additional parts that need maintenance. Air-driven handpieces also tend to be lighter and easier to handle which is desirable within such a precise industry, with the latest innovations providing greater torque so you can use them for many applications over a longer period of time.

Unclean air, whether that is dirty or wet, can do damage to the equipment you use every day in your dental office. Some of the top pieces of equipment that are impacted negatively by dirty air include:

  • Drills
  • Chair valves
  • Handpieces
  • Scalers
  • Delivery units
  • 3/1 syringes

When you’re using a poor-quality dental air compressor system that delivers either dirty air or air at a lower pressure than required, you will see poor effectiveness or even no operation of these devices. If the air pressure is good, but the air itself is dirty, then you’re risking internal damage to those units from corrosion, undoubtedly reducing their overall lifespan.

It’s said that even selecting a low-quality air compressor can lead to carbon buildup, which will pose a greater threat to your machinery. Even with moist air, the internals of the machinery and tools quickly become rather unstable. You will expect the moisture to lead to corrosion, amongst microorganism contamination, and therefore, decrease the precision of your tools, hindering your work.

Oil-Lubricated vs Oil-Free Dental Air Compressors

Often when dentists are shopping for air compressors, they’re unsure of which is better, an oil-lubricated or oil-free design? Well, let’s provide help here!

Oil-lubricated air compressors were once believed to be quieter of the two and generally last longer than oil-free models, making them seem like a top choice for a dental office, but nowadays, that isn’t the case.

The oil-less models now outperform their oiled counterparts. For dentists that don’t want the hassle and worry that comes with consistently checking and changing the oil filters/separators to ensure that no oil is getting into the air stream, an oil-less design is a far better choice.

The main reason why a dentist will choose an oil-free compressor is that they pose a lower risk of contaminating the air with lubricant. Instead of injecting oil into the pump, scroll compressors are oil-free by design while piston compressors use a special friction-reducing coating, like PTFE, to produce clean air without sacrificing performance. To learn more about the different Types Of Air Compressors – Air Compressor Types & Applications visit our guide here!

Oil-free units also boast the attribute of being lightweight, so they can be placed in a wider range of areas, while still creating as much necessary airflow and pressure as a lot of the oil-lubricated models. Removing the risk of contaminating the air is the biggest win for oil-free designs and makes the most sense because it can protect the health and safety of your patients, staff, and those in your office waiting for areas.

Though you will need to perform maintenance slightly more often, the health and safety concerns significantly outweigh any benefit you’d see from using the heavier, lubricated models! For more information on Oilless Air Compressors vs. Oil Compressors visit our comparison article!

One thing with working with an oil-free dental compressor is that they may provide louder compression cycles. Most dental offices are using offices that are using dental compressors small enough to be fitted with silencers/mufflers, to help reduce the noise of the unit.

These pieces of equipment can help you keep the environment sound levels at a comfortable level for your staff and patients, aligning with the overall safety. Oil-less compressors are also known to generate higher heat outputs and have a greater possibility of creating condensation. They subsequently need plenty of room to vent and have air circulate around them.

This, however, is typically good news because it means that there is enough space to install silencers and any necessary covers to aid in reducing noise while also ensuring the proper breathing room for a full-functioning air compressor.

Working with a reputable dealer that provides a sufficient warranty can ensure your equipment is properly installed, maintained, and protected for its lifespan.

What to Look For When Choosing a Dental Air Compressor

Determining what to look for when selecting a dental air compressor really comes down to your specific situation. Dental offices will often jump at the best-priced option available to them, but this is not recommended. To help you select the best dental air compressors for your office, you should consider the following 3 factors:

  • Power (HP)
  • Pressure (PSI)
  • Airflow (CFM)
  • Duty cycle

Let’s take a look at each in more detail!

Power (HP)

Every compressor will have a specified power rating of the pump that’s used to compress the air itself. This rating will typically be given in horsepower (hp). Pumps generally have a wide range of power requirements, with the stronger the pump being, the longer it’ll be able to power the compressor.

The more horsepower you have, the faster and more air you can compress. You should look for a pump that has anywhere between 1 and 5 horsepower to help run your dental equipment, depending on the size of your practice.

Pressure (PSI)

Each dental tool you use will have a specific pressure requirement for it to be able to operate sufficiently. Likely measured in bar or PSI, you should look at the tools you have and take note of their pressure requirements. Most dental hand tools will typically require around 5 bar (72.5 PSI). To learn more about PSI, visit our PSIA vs PSIG vs PSI – Differences, Conversions & Calculations guide.

Most air compressors will comfortably be able to deliver this amount of pressure, as they’re usually rated for 90 PSI. But, regardless, you should always aim higher than your tools requirements to ensure you have enough pressure for powering multiple stations and to be able to compensate for any potential pressure drops.

Air with too little pressure can ruin tools, interrupt procedures, and possibly hurt your patient, and even your reputation. If you’re trying to run tools with too little pressure, you’re going to damage the tools. When working with drills, drops in pressure can reduce its capability and fail to drill or cut as needed, making it take a lot longer to treat your patients. So, you’re now increasing the costs of staff hours and utility bills per patient.

Airflow (CFM)

Every pneumatic tool, including dental tools, will have a CFM (cubic feet per minute) rating/requirement they require to be able to operate effectively. The CFM basically represents the amount of airflow required for proper function. To learn more, visit our What Is CFM and What Does CFM Mean on An Air Compressor? guide!

Just like with the air pressure, you will want a compressor that can provide more CFM than your tool’s requirements. It is generally recommended to add up all your tool’s CFM ratings and then multiple that by 1.5 to get the minimum CFM requirement of your air compressor. If you only intend to use one tool at a time then simply multiply your highest CFM tool by 1.5.

Duty Cycle

The duty cycle is a very important factor to consider. It is defined as the amount of rest a compressor needs within its cycle time. For instance, a 50% duty cycle would represent the compressor needing to rest for 10 minutes within every 20-minute cycle.

Dental tools will often assume a 25% duty cycle, so you will not have a problem finding a compressor that can handle this duty cycle – most are typically rated with a 50% duty cycle.

Dental Office Air Compressor Installation

It’s important to always start your search with a high-quality and well-respected company. A lot of air dental compressor sellers are not manufacturers themselves, so you will want to go with a dental compressor brand that is a well-known supplier and is rated for their service and deliveries.

To secure a long lifespan of your dental air compressor, you’ll need it to be properly installed. Poor installation can cost you money to fix, create significant noise in your practice, and may even speed up the time between each maintenance need.

Dental compressors require a steady supply of clean air, so installation must be in a clear and clean space that’s sufficiently ventilated. If your installer doesn’t know the dental business, they could be placing your compressor in the wrong spot, and that will both overwork its filters and increase the likelihood of contamination or failure of the compressor.

Overworking the compressor will also create a moisture-rich environment. Over time, this will work in tandem with poor ventilation and can lead to significant risks for contamination and harm to your patients. The greater the risk that you’re pulling in carbon dioxide if your compressor is close to your vacuum, and then sending this directly into the mouths of patients.

You should choose a qualified installer with a strong maintenance record so you can be sure your system is installed correctly.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

How much does a dental compressor cost?

Dental air compressors for sale will generally have their cost vary depending on the size of the compressor, CFM rating, horsepower. You will be able to pick on up for as little as around the $1000 mark, or you may go as high as $8000 for a larger one. Some refurbished dental air compressors are available at a lot more affordable prices.

What is an air compressor used for in dentistry?

Air compressors are used to power a variety of tools needed to complete dental procedures. For example, they are used to power 3/1 syringes, chair valves, delivery units, drills, handpieces, and scalers.

How long do dental air compressors last?

If the dental compressor is properly maintained then you may be able to get around 10 to 15 years of service out of it. This will happen by following a preventative maintenance schedule, to ensure that you are able to diagnose a problem before it does any damage to your dental system.

If you have any questions regarding dental air compressors, please leave a comment below, with a photo if applicable, so that someone can help you!

By Aidan Weeks

A passionate Mechanical Engineer with endless enthusiasm for fluid power - building off the back of over 18 years of high quality contribution and discussion stimulated by Bill Wade here at About Air Compressors. With both practical and theoretical experience in pneumatics and hydraulics, I'm putting my knowledge to work - and working my grey-matter through my research, assistance and publishing work here at About Air Compressors. Feel free to reach out any time! P.S. A HUGE shout out to Doug who really offers such great value to all visitors to About Air Compressors - once again, feeling like I'm standing on the shoulders of GIANTS by getting to work alongside such a great community

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