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Everything You Need to Know Guide to Ultrasonic Cleaners
by Dylan Hao |
Ahhhh, technology. Isn’t it wonderful when it works? It makes mundane things, like keeping your retainer and night guard clean, so much easier!
The newest tech gadget on your radar is an ultrasonic cleaner, and you’re wondering how it works and if it’s worth the investment. Is it really important to clean your dental appliance with a machine, or can you get away with washing it by hand?
The reality is that any dental mouthpiece, from your toothbrush to your night guard, needs to be thoroughly cleaned. Without proper upkeep, it’s a haven for pathogens like bacteria and plaque. They grow and multiply by the thousands — not something you want to put in your mouth, right?
Most of us clean our oral appliances with a little soap and water. But an ultrasonic cleaner takes hygiene to the next level. Here, we’ll explain what these gadgets are and everything you need to know to use them for your retainer and night guard.
What “Ultrasonic” Means
You’ve likely seen the term “ultrasonic” used in fields like medicine and communication. It refers to anything that vibrates at a level greater than what humans can hear at our upper limits, which is about 20 kilohertz (kHz).
Imagine standing under a showerhead and being drenched with waterfall-capacity waves. You’d get pretty clean because the intensity of the pressure combined with the speed of the water hitting you is more than enough to remove germs and dirt buildup.
Take that vision and picture an ultrasonic device that cleans your retainer or night guard. But when a device uses ultrasonic waves, it combines a high frequency of kHz within a space, usually a type of liquid or gas. This creates millions of tiny, nano-sized bubbles.
These bubbles are constantly expanding and shrinking, which releases energy. The energy becomes a process called cavitation. This process is a safe way to clean everything from jewelry to dental appliances.
Because cavitation happens as quickly as 4000 times per second, every nook and cranny in the object you’re trying to clean is covered. (For context, imagine that showerhead spraying water on you 4000 times per second.)
Ultrasonic cleaning methods have been used in labs, commercial businesses, and industries for decades. Unlike other methods, it’s a technique that penetrates and cleans complex surfaces that might not otherwise get reached.
Related: Why Is My Nightguard Turning Yellow?
Benefits of Ultrasonic Cleaners
You can scrub and scrub all day with a scouring pad to clean your appliance. Or, you could put it in an ultrasonic cleaning machine and let cavitation gently do its thing.
The main benefit of these devices is that they remove all contaminants without using abrasive techniques. Your item, no matter how delicate, is safely and effectively cleaned. In fact, non-liquid ultrasonic cleaners are the go-to method for cleaning computer parts and microchips and are used in sensitive industries like food processing, healthcare, aerospace, disaster recovery, and electronic engineering.
Why Choose an Ultrasonic Cleaner for Your Night Guard?
Your oral appliance isn’t exactly delicate, but it can still benefit from a thorough ultrasonic cleaning. Is it worth the investment? Check out these advantages to help you decide for yourself.
How long do you take to clean your oral appliance now? If you soak it in a cleaning agent at least once a week or brush it regularly, you’re looking at 20-30 minutes of wasted time. An ultrasonic cleaner can have the whole thing, hidden parts and all, sanitized and spotless in seconds.
Retainers and night guards can stand up to basic scrubbing but don’t hold up well to hot water, scouring, or high pressure. The ultrasonic device gently cleans your appliance, eliminating bacteria and other contaminants without any abrasive techniques.
It Cleans Just About Everything
No contaminants are safe from the intense cleaning power of an ultrasonic device. With enough time, the cleaner will remove stubborn stains, including grease, wax, and oil. If you spill it on your retainer or night guard, the ultrasonic cleaner can fix it for you.
No Crevice is Left Behind
The high-frequency waves of an ultrasonic cleaner get into any opening, penetrating every surface, no matter how microscopic. Retainers and night guards have crevices and edges that can be hard to get to with regular cleanings, but an ultrasonic device handles the whole thing easily.
It Doesn’t Use Much Energy
We all want to do our part to be eco-friendly. Using an ultrasonic cleaner aligns with those values. It only uses one tiny motor with minimal power consumption. Compared to the energy and water you use to scrub your appliances right now, you could be better off, environmentally speaking, with these cleaners.
Related: Is It Okay to Boil Mouthguards?
The Parts of an Ultrasonic Cleaner
So how does an ultrasonic cleaner do its job so well? It’s the combination of three essential components working together simply and efficiently.
The outside of the machine must be durable and able to handle water and electricity, so they’re often made from materials like stainless steel.
Whatever the material is, all ultrasonic cleaning machines use a tank, a generator, and a transducer. The size of the tank determines how big or small the finished device is and what kind of items you can put in the cleaner.
Once the size of the tank is determined, the next part added is the generator. This power source converts energy from electrical into mechanical using sound waves. Those sound waves create the inundation of microscopic bubbles we mentioned earlier. The collapsing bubbles take the debris from the object and clean it in the cavitation process.
Finally, the transducer is connected. This part is the most important and delicate. It is made up of a frequency plate and a transducer. The two work together to generate high-frequency sounds too high for us to hear.
Some machines will have extras to boost the features they offer, like the UV light we at JS Dental Lab use in our ultrasonic cleaner. The UV light functions as a natural disinfectant. All you need is room-temperature water, and the machine does the rest.
Ultrasonic Cleaning Devices in Action
Once the machine is connected to its source of power and turned on, the generator and transducer start working. The generator turns the electricity from the power source into electrical energy. The transducer takes that energy and begins vibrating and pulsing, turning the electrical energy into ultrasonic waves.
Because the energy conversion in the device happens so fast, the movement results in high-frequency sound waves, which form bubbles below the surface.
Remember when you were little and tried to talk underwater? You made bubbles that slowly rose to the top and popped. The ultrasonic cleaner does that at incredible speeds, causing cavitation. The bubbles spread out over the surface of the item inside the device at such an intensity that your appliance becomes sparkly clean.
Cleaners You Can Use With Your Ultrasonic Device
Ultrasonic devices can clean your item well without any solutions. But if you do want to use a cleaner, it’s important to choose the right one.
Some cleaners will damage the retainer or night guard material. Most JS Dental Lab appliances are made from Polyethylene terephthalate, better known as PETG or PET, and Ethylene-vinyl acetate, or EVA. The materials are biocompatible to ensure no health risks come with using the products.
While the materials are durable, they shouldn’t come in contact with certain chemicals. Never use hydrogen peroxide or persulfate (an ingredient in denture cleaning powder and cleaning tablets like Efferdent) to clean your dental appliances. Skip harsh agents, such as bleach, and avoid exposure to boiling water. Even toothpaste is too harsh for an oral appliance.
You can add a little baking soda to the water if you have some stubborn stains. And if you accidentally toss your retainer in the trash can or it’s exposed to heavy-duty germs, you’ll probably want extra disinfecting.
When that happens, grab a little isopropanol (isopropyl alcohol). It works well as an antiseptic and won’t damage the machine or the appliance.
If you have a specific kind of retainer cleaner you like to use, check with the ultrasonic machine’s manufacturer before adding it as a solution in the device.
How to Use Your Device
Understanding how the ultrasonic cleaners work gives you the knowledge you need to trust that yours will do a better job than general manual scrubbing can muster.
The final step to learn is how to use the machine. Most devices are simple. They don’t get overly complex until you’re using them to do complicated tasks, like cleaning microchips or fragile items.
Still, every machine is different, so the first thing you should do is read the instructions that come with your device. If there are extra features, the user manual will guide you through them.
In general, the methods to work your cleaner are consistent. After you read the user manual and understand the features of your device, find the tank on the cleaner. Use a container to fill the tank to the “max fill” line using the type of water recommended by the manufacturer (usually just distilled water or tap water).
Insert your night guard or retainer into the tank and turn on the cleaner.
Tip: less water in the tank translates to more effective cleaning because more power is distributed per unit volume of the water.
Choose the mode you want to run (the JS Dental Lab machine has two modes, regular and degassing), and hit start. The machine will begin to work. You’ll hear something that sounds like a high-pitched humming or buzzing. That’s the generator and transducer doing their thing, converting electrical energy into those bubbles that will work their magic to clean your appliance.
The machine’s auto shut-off feature kicks in when the cleaning cycle time is up. As soon as it stops, you can safely open the lid and remove your item. Follow the directions to dump the water out of the machine, and enjoy your fresh, clean night guard or retainer.
Bonus tip: Your ultrasonic cleaner can sanitize other things, too, like:
- Your Invisalign-style clear aligners
- Toothbrush heads
- Orthodontic mouth guards
- Some jewelry
Just remember to never use denture cleaner, glasses solution, or jewelry cleaner in the device.
When you’re on the go and can’t take your ultrasonic cleaner with you, keep your dental appliances fresh with JS Dental Lab’s spearmint flavor spray. This great-tasting spray has no sugar, alcohol, or peroxide in it, and it kills 99.9% of odor-causing bacteria on contact.
There are many excellent reasons why ultrasonic cleaners are found in healthcare facilities, laboratories, and industries worldwide. So it makes sense that you have one in your home, too.
JS Dental Lab’s ultrasonic cleaning machine includes UV light features that do double duty as a germ killer. When you’re not using the device to clean retainers and other oral care essentials, why not get some ultrasonic jewelry cleaning done? Use the same steps (minus the mouthwash) to power-clean your necklace, rings, and earrings, too!