Air compressors are a vital piece of any dental office, since they power many of the most important tools. Selecting the right compressor can help you build a practice poised for growth, while choosing poorly could potentially expose your patients to harm. While using a specific type of air compressor does not guarantee pathogens are not present, it does help to select a compressor that will provide the best air quality possible.
This can make it difficult for any business owner to know what to look for in a dental air compressor and how to choose the right one for both business and patient benefits. This guide from Quincy Compressor looks at some of the main elements of the proper dental compressor, covering what you need to know to keep everyone safe and your operations successful.
Dive in and always ask questions so you’re offering the best service, from cleaning and crowns to advanced surgeries.
Air Quality Is King
The element of what to look for in a dental air compressor must be the quality of the air that’s produced. The reason is that high-quality air is safer for your patients and the other equipment in your practice.
The cleaner the air your compressor creates and uses, the safer your patients. In a dental practice, there is the 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 dangers.
The UK’s NHS Estates, an Executive Agency of the Department of Health, has two specific requirements for dental air compressors to reduce the risk of contamination and improve efficiency of dental instruments:
The dryer system should be capable of producing air with an atmospheric dew-point no less than –20oC.
The filter system should provide dust filtration down to 1 μm with a DOP (aerosol) efficiency of not less than 99.97% and bacteria filtration down to 0.01 μm with a DOP (aerosol) efficiency of not less than 99.9999%.
A good air compressor not only helps keep your patients safe, but it also helps protect your practice, by reducing the chance of causing an illness and facing potential litigation that can close your doors.
Safeguard Your Equipment, Too
Dental tools are expensive and tend to be delicate. That can make proper controls and care of supplies very important, given that the average dentist spends $50,000 on clinical supplies each year. If equipment is damaged and needs to be replaced more often, you’re working against your revenues and impacting your ability to grow.
Dirty, wet or unclean air can do damage to the equipment you use every day. Some of the top pieces of equipment that are impacted negatively by dirty air include:
When you’re using a poor-quality air compressor system that delivers either dirty air or an air compressor that delivers air at a lower pressure than required, you’ll see low-quality or even no operation of these devices. If air pressure is good, but the air itself is unclean, then you’re risking internal damage to those units, reducing their overall lifespan.
The biggest concern is moist air that can harm delicate internal machinery and quickly make your tools unusable. Moisture can lead to corrosion, microorganism contamination and decrease the precision of your tools. For those who select a low-quality air compressor, a common issue is carbon buildup that poses an even greater danger to the machinery in handpieces.
Electric handpieces also tend to have a greater cost and a higher number of parts that you’ll need to maintain, while air-driven pieces can be obtained in full, often for less than $1,000. Air-driven handpieces also tend to be lighter and easier to handle, with the latest innovations providing greater torque so you can use them for many applications over a longer period of time.
Oil-lubricated air compressors tend to be quieter and can last longer than other models, making them seem like a top choice for a dental office, but that may not be the case.
The main reason many dentists choose an oil-free compressor is because they have a lower risk of contaminating the compressed air with lubricant. These units also tend to be lighter, allowing them to be placed in a wider range of areas, while still creating as much air flow and pressure as many oil-lubricated models.
Removing the risk of contaminating the air is the biggest win and makes the most sense because it can protect the health and safety of your patients, staff and those in your office waiting areas. While 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.
Because you’re working with an oil-free compressor, you may also face louder compression cycles. The good news is that most dental offices are using compressors small enough to be fitted with filter silencers, significantly reducing the noise your unit will make.
Silencers can make sure the environment stays enjoyable for your patients and staff, so they can continue to operate without any safety equipment and so that you’re not creating an environment with any long-term risks related to your use of compressed air.
Oil-less compressors also tend to generate higher heat outputs and have a greater possibility of creating condensation, so they need plenty of room to vent and have air circulate around them. This is typically good news, because it means there is usually enough space to install silencers and covers which can reduce noise, while ensuring the proper breathing room for a full-functioning air compressor.
Sound covers and exhaust/vent silencers tend to come with their own warranty, so working with a reputable dealer can ensure your equipment is properly installed, maintained, and protected for its useful life.
You should also look at the construction of the unit itself. Ask your air compressor dealer about improvements to intake filters to reduce noise, the inclusion of rubber shock mounts and flatter frame options that can keep things steady and quiet during even extended operations.
Questions to Ask
Determining what to look for in a dental air compressor really comes down to your specific situation. Dental offices require compressors for top operation, and that immediate need sometimes causes an owner to jump at the lowest-priced option in front of them, which could lead to trouble down the road.
You offer a service, not a commodity, and we think it’s best to look at air compressors in the same light.
To help you pick the right model before the price conversation takes center stage, here are a few things to figure out based on what’s already in your office and where you’re headed next.
Each compressor will have a specific power rating for the pump that’s used to compress the air itself. Pumps have a wide range of power requirements, and the stronger the pump is, the more you’ll be able to power for longer. Dental offices will likely need one to five horsepower to help run all of their equipment.
Just remember, the more tools you want to power, the stronger you’ll want your compressor to be.
Each dental tool you use has a specific pressure requirement for it to function properly. Look at the tools you have to see their pressure requirements, typically listed and measured in BAR. For many dental applications, like handheld tools, you’ll see around a five BAR requirement.
Aim a little higher than the BAR minimum so you can ensure you’ve got enough pressure when the compressor is powering multiple stations, or to compensate for any possible pressure drops across your piping.
If you’re trying to run tools with too little pressure, you can cause damage to the tool and possibly harm to your patients. When working with drills, drops in pressure can reduce its capability and fail to drill or cut as needed, making it take longer to treat patients — which increases the cost of your staff hours, anesthetic and even utility costs per patient.
Tools will also provide you with cubic feet per minute (CFM) or liters per minute (LPM) requirement to let you know what they need to operate consistently and properly across an entire procedure. Just like with pressure, it’s typically recommended to get a compressor that exceeds the combined required CFM or LPM listings so you can keep tools in proper working order.
Dental tools often assume a 25% load — where you’re only using it one out of every four minutes — and the CFM rating reflects this. If you tend to perform complex surgeries more often, or use your tools for longer periods, it’s advisable to find a CFM that’s significantly higher than the tool requirement.
Things to Avoid
Selecting a quality air compressor involves not only what’s already been presented for the unit, but also a review of your local laws, overall needs and the company you’re working with for your air compressor. Let’s look at those three elements to help you ensure that you know what to look for in a dental air compressors and supplier.
Always start with a high-quality company in all of your air compressor dealings. Because many air compressor sellers are not the manufacturers, you’ll want to go with a compressor brand that’s well-known and a supplier who is also highly rated for their service and the quality of their deliveries.
To secure a long life for your air compressor, you’ll need to ensure it’s properly installed. Poor installation can cost you money to fix, can create significant noise in your practice and can speed up the time between each maintenance need.
Compressors require a steady supply of clean air, so installation will need to be in a clear and clean space that’s properly ventilated. If your installer doesn’t know the dental business, he or she could be placing your compressor in the wrong spot, and that will both overwork its filters and increase the likelihood of contamination or failure.
Overworking the compressor also tends to create a moisture-rich environment. Over time, this will work in tandem with poor ventilation and can lead to significant risks for contamination and patient harm.
Because the dental community also needs a strong vacuum system, your installer should guarantee you’ve got enough space between these two systems. The closer your compressor is to your vacuum, the greater the risk that you’re pulling in carbon dioxide and then sending this directly into the mouths of patients.
Choose a qualified installer with a strong maintenance record so you can be sure your system is installed correctly. When in doubt, reach out directly and ask your potential partner about their dental work experience and suggestions for your application.
Different countries, states and towns have different requirements for using and installing air compressors of various sizes. Ask your compressor partner about what’s important in your area. Often, these requirements will be limited to large tanks or high pressure ratings, but the actual requirements can vary widely.
You may also face different safety regulations by operating a dental practice. This can set safety requirements for any equipment you use, so you’ll have to turn to your local governing body to determine if there are restrictions for your air compressor.
Again, your compressor partner should understand all of this information and can assist you in searching for any specific rules that may apply to your businesses and location.
Fits Today’s Practice
How many tools do you use today? What about tomorrow? Are you planning on expanding your business in the near future?
Business growth in the dental space is often related to customer demand and availability of additional space or rooms in your current building. Air compressors are usually the last thing on people’s minds when it comes to growing the practice.
If you double your number of dentists or surgery applications, but don’t double the capacity of your compressor, you’ll be overworking your compressor. Overworked compressors generate more heat and moisture, plus have greater wear on internal parts. All of these can lead to greater dangers and damage, harming your practice and your bottom line in the long run.
Air system piping and air receivers also play an important role in air compressor installation. You’ll need a proper fit for each to ensure that your chairs operate correctly and the air you need is always ready.