You Don't Have To Pick The Pick: The Benefits (And Drawbacks) Of Ultrasonic Scalers

Posted on: 28 July 2015

If you ask anybody who fears their dental appointments why they're afraid of them, it's a safe best that most of them will talk about the dental instruments involved. The vast array of picks, scrapers, drills and chisels would not look entirely out of place in a medieval torture chamber, and while the science of dentistry has advanced to such a degree that the pain and discomfort involved has been drastically reduced, these cold titanium instruments can still be a chilling sight for some.

But these traditional instruments are now supplemented by a growing array of high-tech dental tools that make dental procedures quicker, easier, and less painful. One of the procedures that has benefited the most from these advances is the scaling and polishing you might receive during a routine check-up. While the dentist will probably prefer to use traditional picks to remove hardened calculus from hard-to-reach areas, the lion's share of the work can now be done with a device known as an ultrasonic scaler.

What are ultrasonic scalers and their benefits?

A device that was actually first conceived way back in the 1950s, the ultrasound scaler is considered essential equipment by many modern dentists. This small, handheld device uses electrical current to create high-frequency vibration, which is administered to your teeth with a soft tip. This ultrasonic vibration serves a number of purposes: it breaks down hardened tartar and calculus, disrupts the biofilm of plaque and detritus that coats your teeth, and creates shockwaves that, while harmless to your teeth and gums, violently disrupt the structural integrity of bacterial cells, causing them to rupture and die. Ultrasonic scalers can make a standard scaling procedure significantly faster, and the soft tip creates much less discomfort for patients. Most ultrasound scalers are also fitted with integrated irrigation jets, which spray water at the point of contact to flush away loosened detritus and soothe the area.

What are the drawbacks?

There are, however, a few drawbacks to undergoing ultrasound scaling. Firstly, they may not be suitable for people with sensitive teeth, as the vibrations created can cause painful reactions in sensitive tooth nerves. Secondly, they are generally not suited to cleaning porcelain veneers and dental implants, as they can severely damage the brittle ceramic. Lastly, and most importantly, you will not be eligible for ultrasound scaling if you have a cardiac pacemaker fitted - in rare cases, the vibrations can interfere with the normal functioning of your pacemaker. Needless to say, that's bad.