Are Ultrasonic Cleanings Better than Hand Instrument Cleanings?

Recently, an anonymous reader sent me a question asking about the differences between the instruments that dentists can use for cleanings.  It reads: For cleanings, my dentist uses a plaque scraper and the rotating buffer thing. Other dentists in the area advertise ultrasonic cleanings. What is an ultrasonic cleaning? Does it provide any additional advantage, or have any disadvantages?(dental intraoral camera usb)

First of all, there are two main techniques for removing plaque and tartar from your teeth – manual and ultrasonic.  A manual cleaning is done using hand instruments such as those pictured to the left.  An ultrasonic cleaning means that the dentist is using a special instrument that vibrates at a very high frequency to remove the plaque and tartar.  The ultrasonic instrument also sprays a stream of water toward your teeth.  Here are two examples of ultrasonic instruments: the Cavitron and the BlisSonic.

Regardless of the technique your dentist uses, the dentist will still use the rotating rubber cup with dental cleaning paste to smooth out and polish the teeth, as shown in the picture to the right.

They found that the ultrasonic scalers may not remove as much tooth structure as the regular hand instruments. In summary, the ultrasonic instruments do have many advantages when compared to the hand instruments.  When a patient has lots of plaque and tartar build-up, the ultrasonic instruments are great at quickly cleaning the teeth.  However, many dentists prefer to simply use hand instruments when there is only a small amount of tartar on the teeth.

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