Traditionally, a dental cleaning at a family dentist involves the dentist or hygienist removing plaque and tartar from the surfaces of your teeth using a hand-held metal implement known as a scaler. Fortunately, these days many dentists choose to accomplish the same task using devices known as power scalers. If you would like to learn more about how these tools work, read on. This article will provide a useful introduction to the subject.
Much like a hand scaler, a power scaler accomplishes the task of removing plaque deposits (aka calculus) from your teeth by means of mechanical action. Yet unlike hand scalers, which must be painfully scraped against the surface of the tooth, a power scaler's mechanical force comes from its high level of vibrational energy. This allows it to break up and remove calculus more quickly.
In addition, a power scaler utilizes a stream of flowing water. This water fulfills two main purposes. First of all, it helps to wash disrupted plaque and biofilms safely away from your teeth. A special vacuum device then removes these substances--along with the water. The stream of water also acts to prevent the power scaling from becoming too hot, which would otherwise soon happen as a result of its high rate of vibration.
Power scalers are able to clean so quickly and effectively thanks to the fact that they harness the power of ultrasonic sound waves. That doesn't mean that they make sounds, of course--the waves in question fall outside of the range of human hearing. The speed of those waves--20,000 to 50,000 cycles per second--provides the tip of the power scaler with the vibratory force necessary to remove even the most stubborn calculus.
There are two principal categories of ultrasonic power scaler: magnetostrictive and piezoelectric. Each of these types uses a different system for generating its ultrasonic waves. Fortunately, it's not important to get too far into the specifics of their operation. What you really need to appreciate is that, due to the differences in their power source, the tips used in the two types of power scalers also differ significantly.
A piezoelectric tip moves back and forth along a linear vector. The easiest way to visualize this is as an eraser moving back and forth across a chalkboard. A magnetostrictive tip, on the other hand, move in an elliptical pattern--something like a figure-eight. This allows the power scaler to attack a given patch of calculus from a multitude of different angles, thus hastening the rate of removal.