Oral Health Group

A Buyers’ Guide to Dental Vacuum Systems

July 1, 2011
by Oral Health

When was the last time you gave any thought to your vacuum system? Probably not once since it was bought and installed and probably not again until it needs replacement. Do you ever hear your suction, smell your suction, does it ever produce inadequate force to allow all the practitioners in the practice to operate effectively at the same time? Traditional wet vacuum systems are loud, smelly (both from the burnt oil and the debris that is trapped in the tanks for an extended period of time) and use massive amounts of water, up to 200,000 gallons per year, equal to an Olympic size swimming pool worth of water every month. Not only is this an environmental concern, but a major financial sinkhole as well.

Averaged over North America, the water required to run a wet vacuum system can cost approximately $2,000 per year. This accounts for the incoming costs only; some communities are beginning to legislate what they consider excessive waste water release, taxing effluents. Thus, the dentist with a wet vacuum system is hit with a double water bill, once on the way in, and again on the way out. Since, a dry vacuum system does not require the water that wet systems do, there is a very positive financial impact (in addition to the environmental one) in switching to the newer technology when the old system needs to be replaced.

The recent introduction of various dry vacuum systems eliminates these concerns and provides excellent clinical vacuuming power. The concerns of retro-fitting a new unit center on practicality and cost. The replacement dry system should be no larger than the existing wet one, and should preferably provide more suction capacity for the practice. Other parameters include reduction of noise and the drainage requirements; most wet system traps must be drained on a regular basis, a task usually allotted (due to its popularity) to the staff member with the least seniority.

1. What are the major differences between the older “wet” vacuum units and the newer “dry” vacuum systems?

Both systems work well for dentistry. However, a new wet vac creates up to 15″ Hg suction pressure while a new dry vac (some but not all) creates up to 25″ Hg. This provides the power and performance that the dentist expects from the vacuum system. This is probably the single most important factor to consider when selecting a new vacuum and should be carefully researched. (Some dry vacs produce only 8″ Hg suction pressure.)

2. How does the decreased water consumption benefit the practice? (water cost, waste cost)

Wet dental vacs use clean, fresh, drinking water to create suction power for the dental practice, ½ gallon per minute per horse power. Most dental offices use 2 x 2 hp wet vacs (2 gallons per minute or 200,000 gallons per year). All Canadian municipalities currently meter water/sewage (or will in the near future) and charge according to usage. The above usage rate of the typical wet vac translates to an average cost of $2000 per year for a dental practice.

3. The new “dry” vacuums are “oil-free”. What does this mean from a practitioner’s perspective?

Many of the currently available dry vacs utilize oil in their motors for lubrication and cooling, much like a car. The “oil” dry vacs therefore exhaust oil vapors which pollute their immediate environment. The also require regular oil maintenance. The newer dental dry vacs can create powerful vacuum without using oil. Carbon fiber vanes eliminate the need for oil in the process. There are no oil levels to check, no oil to add, no oil to change, and most importantly, no oil in the exhaust that can be harmful to people and animals, and can cause severe damage to a roof or building exterior.

4. Draining the vacuum system is always a chore for the staff. Do the “dry” vacuum systems offer an advantage?

Some “dry” vacuum systems offer a unique air-water separator. There is a compact plastic air-water separator that collects liquids and drains them efficiently into a small 20 gallon pail. Working with a gravity drain design, the tank drains every time the pump is shut off. The smaller tank drains more frequently, reducing the odors that are often synonymous with dental evacuation systems. This also eliminates the need for cleaning (something that every staff member will appreciate). Should the tank require draining during the day, the cycle takes approximately 6 minutes.

5. Bacterial buildup in the vacuum system has always been an unspoken concern. Do the “dry” vacuums offer any benefits?

Wet vacs eliminate debris collected from patients’ mouths’ through the water exiting the vacuum pump. All Canadian municipalities legally mandate that a backflow preventer be installed on the waterline to prevent reverse flow and bacterial contamination of the fresh water supply. The cost of a backflow preventer is approximately $1000 plus annual maintenance costs. Dry vacs do not have any water flow, and thus no concerns for backflow or bacterial contamination. No backflow preventers are required.

6. When the vacuum system is installed in close proximity to the operatories or reception area, it can be very loud. Do the newer vacuum systems improve on noise management?

Earlier dental dry vac systems were powered by regenerative blower style motors that generated “jet engine” noise levels. The newer dry vacuum systems are powered by direct drive electric motors and carbon fiber vanes. They exhibit noise levels that are similar to that of a high speed handpiece without the high pitch. These dramatic improvements to the decibel output permit these systems to be installed in small closets and even under lab counters, without disturbing the patients, dentist or dental staff.

7. How big are the newer systems? Do they require more or less floor space than the “wet” vacuums?

In the past, dental vacuum systems were large, heavy, industrial machines that had a large footprint, and were most often tucked away in a dedicated area in the basement or a utility room. Most industrial technologies have improved significantly over the past few decades; dry vacuum systems are not only much quieter, but also much smaller. The dental dry vac pumps currently available are typically similar in footprint or smaller than the wet vac that they replace. Dry vacs, unlike wet vacs, require an air/water separator to hold the collected debris. A 6-12 gallon tank can be attached to the motor or installed at any location in the plumbing system. This tank drains any material it collects automatically.

8. How complicated is the installation of the “dry” vacuum system that replaces the existing “wet” unit, and how long does it take?

In the past, the switch from wet to dry vac was very difficult due to the different plumbing standards required for the two different systems. (At one time, dry vacs required large diameter pipes for effective function.) Today, most dental dry vacs fit the same plumbing pipes that wet vacs use. The most popular wet vac plumbing size is 1-1½”. It is important for the dentist to confirm that their new dry vac system conforms to this standard. The time it takes for an experienced technician to switch from a wet to a dry vac is the same as the time to replace a wet system.

The BaseVac Dental Dry Vacuum System (distributed by Sable Industries, Kitchener, ON) is a dry vacuum system that is manufactured in Canada by R.E.M. Equipment. The BaseVac system evacuates the piping system well beyond the required working vacuum adding significant capacity that provides better performance.

The BaseVac Dry Vac is compact, quiet and fits into the space of the existing vacuum system and will work on any line size such that existing vacuum piping does not have to be replaced or adapted. Because it is quiet, it can be installed anywhere in the practice. There is no waste water or used oil that requires disposal.

Sable’s BaseVac Dental Dry Vac is a technology whose time has come: increased vacuuming power, improved efficiency, clinical effectiveness and no water consumption have the dentist’s parameters clearly in sight.OH

Oral Health welcomes this original article.

Dr. George Freed­man, DDS, is the author of the Con­temporary Esthetic Dentistry (Elsevier) textbook due to be published at the end of 2011.