Ultrasonic denture cleaners.
What are ultrasonic denture cleaners? What advantages do they offer?
An ultrasonic cleaner is essentially a vibrating water bath. What’s unique about using one is that the high-frequency motion of its vibrating solution accomplishes denture cleansing at a microscopic level.
The use of one of these units doesn’t replace denture brushing but instead supplements it. It’s able to dislodge debris and microorganisms from your appliances at a level where a brush’s bristles can only have minimal effect.
Research shows a need for ultrasonic cleansing.
Studies that have inspected the surface of dentures using an electron microscope have determined that even the most diligent brushing session typically fails to remove a substantial amount of microscopic accumulation. (Shay)
That’s because the porous, scratched and gouged surfaces of false teeth harbor innumerable nooks and crannies large enough for debris and microorganisms to occupy.
In light of this information, it becomes obvious why incorporating the use of an ultrasonic cleaner into your daily denture care routine makes sense. It’s able to produce additional cleaning at a level beyond what’s otherwise possible.
(We’ll add, most people’s denture cleaning efforts can use all of the additional help they can get. If you’re curious about the effectiveness of your current method, you might try this test.)
What this page explains.
If you do decide that the use of an ultrasonic unit makes sense to you, the remainder of this page describes specifics about how these devices work, how effective using one can be, and how they’re generally used. We also outline features to look for when choosing a unit.
How do ultrasonic denture cleaners work?
As mentioned above, ultrasonic cleaners are a form of vibrating water bath. The motion of the liquid in its tank is created by a high-frequency transducer.
The actual cleansing action created by these units is due to the following phenomena.
- One is the action of the bath’s liquid in motion as it’s forcefully propelled against the denture’s surface. (Admittedly, even “sonic” units create this type of benefit to some degree. See below.)
- The other is a “scrubbing” action that’s created by the collapse of the tiny bubbles that have been formed by the intense (ultrasonic) agitation of the bath’s solution.
As they rupture (a process termed “cavitation”), they create minute but powerful shock waves that are able to loosen and remove debris from denture surfaces.
How an ultrasonic cleaner is used.
Directions for using an ultrasonic unit to clean your dentures.
- As a first step, your denture should be thoroughly brushed.
This helps to remove loose particles, films and debris. Getting this gunk out of the way will enhance the level of cleaning accomplished by ultrasonic treatment.
- The unit’s tank must be filled with liquid but no higher than its “fill” line (so to avoid spills and mishaps). Your denture must be fully submerged in the liquid to receive the full effects of ultrasonic cleaning.
- Manufacturers usually provide some type of proprietary formulation (packets of powder or crystals) that they suggest should be used to prepare the bath’s solution.
- An alternative that you’ll probably find just as good but practically free is just using a homemade soap solution. (Just add a few drops of dishwashing liquid to tap water.)
The detergent helps to reduce the surface tension of the water, which helps to enhance the rate of cavitation (the formation of the microscopic bubbles that create the cleaning effect).
- If more than one person will be using your device, you can use this technique to keep your “germs” from mixing with others:
Place your denture in a baggie so it’s fully covered over with your chosen solution. Then vent off most of the air and then seal the bag. Submerge the bag in the unit’s tank for the cleaning process.
- Once you have everything set up, turn your unit on and let it run through its cycle.
- Afterward, rinse your denture thoroughly with cool tap water.
- (At this point, and as a next step, you might proceed to chemical disinfection of your denture via the use of a commercial or homemade soak.)
How long do you run the unit?
- At-home ultrasonic cleaners typically have timers that run for 3 to 6 minutes and then turn off automatically.
Running one cycle is generally enough. Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations.
- The study we mention below (Cruz) used a one-time treatment of 15 minutes for false teeth.
- Aasim, when studying the effects of ultrasonic treatment on dental instruments (a corollary for denture cleaning), found that no further cleaning effect was realized after 5 to 10 minutes.
Precautions and concerns.
a) Denture damage or wear.
At least in theory, it’s possible that the continued use of a vibratory unit to clean two dentures simultaneously (such as an upper and lower denture) could cause wear as the two rub against each other vigorously in the bath.
On a practical level, the amount of wear that would be expected to take place would most likely just be minute and randomly distributed. But some degree of risk does exist and the effect would be cumulative. This issue can be avoided totally by choosing to clean appliances separately.
b) Concerns with overheating.
It’s possible for an ultrasonic cleaning unit to cause damage to dentures by way of overheating them. Several factors may come into play in regard to this issue:
- The electrical components (transducers) that generate the device’s vibratory motion and cavitation action will tend to heat up over time, thus raising the temperature of its bath solution.
- The cavitation process itself tends to produce heat.
- The total amount of time or number of cycles a unit is run is a factor, with longer durations creating a larger heating effect.
For single-setting units specifically designed for denture cleaning, it’s commonplace that their instructions will state a maximum number of continuous cycles that should be allowed.
What are the allowed temperature limits?
While the exact level of heat exposure that’s permissible for your denture will vary according to the materials from which it has been made (ask your dentist for specifics), we’ve noticed the following suggested limits in dental literature.
- Lorton (1979) – It’s well known that elevated temperatures can distort denture plastics, thus affecting their fit. This study determined that temperatures in the range of 190 F and above are a concern for causing this effect.
- Handa (2008) – This study evaluated the effects of temperature on soft denture linings (silicone-based, both permanent and temporary).
For the liners evaluated, their manufacturers recommended a maximum temperature exposure of around 130 F. The study determined that baths in the range of 175 F tended to cause liner discoloration and surface roughness.
How effective are ultrasonic units?
Reports in research.
▲ Section references – Cruz
Consider using multiple cleaning methods.
There’s no reason not to utilize more than one cleaning method with your dentures, either in tandem daily or else on alternating days.
The underlying principles of ultrasonic and chemical cleaning are entirely different and therefore your dentures can draw benefit from performing both.
People that have impaired manual dexterity (such as aged, debilitated or handicapped persons) frequently find denture brushing to be an impossibly difficult, or risky (possible denture breakage), activity.
For these people, the use of an ultrasonic cleaner can provide an easier and/or safer way for them to incorporate mechanical cleansing into their daily denture cleaning routine. (The cavitation action of ultrasonic cleaning is a type of mechanical/scrubbing cleansing.)
Features to look for in ultrasonic denture cleaning units.
As much as we’d like to, it’s far beyond the scope of our website to purchase a number of ultrasonic denture cleaners and test and evaluate them. Only an organization on the scale of Consumer Reports could do a meaningful job of that.
What we are able to do however is read through the manuals and manufacturer data sheets of these devices to see what specs and features they have. We’ve also read through hundreds and hundreds of user comments and reviews on retailer websites to get an idea of what actual unit owners want and have to say about the products they’ve bought.
Altogether, here’s what we’ve learned –
1) What type of ultrasonic cleaners are available?
For the most part, you’ll tend to find two tiers of denture cleaners. Basic consumer-oriented products and then at the higher-end, more professional devices.
a) Consumer-oriented models –
These are the type of ultrasonic denture cleaners that most people will no doubt consider first, if for no other reason than their lower cost.
These machines generally run on the order of $40 to $80. They make reasonable introductory choices but as you’d expect with any lower-end device they do come with some limitations.
We’re sorry to have to report this but one of the most mentioned problems in user reviews and comments for lower-end consumer-oriented ultrasonic denture cleaners is simply unit failure / poor longevity. (We discuss possible reasons for this as this page continues.)
Moisture / Corrosion problems.
It seems in many cases (possibly most) a unit’s demise is probably associated with moisture entering the device and causing corrosion of its internal components.
Because of this, when you shop for a unit give some consideration to how you’ll be expected to empty its tank. And how the device’s overall design will help or hinder your ability to do this without exposing its internal components to moisture.
Designs you’ll find.
- One design approach is for the unit to have a removable, or at least detachable, tank (or else a tank with a drain). However, our survey of available products led us to believe that this type of design is relatively difficult to find in lower-end models.
(Here’s why: A freely removable tank would have less intimate contact with the transducer that creates the unit’s ultrasonic vibrations. A manufacturer can overcome this deficiency by using a more powerful transducer. But doing so would increase the unit’s cost and therefore is not a viable option for lower-end models.)
- With a fixed-in-place tank design, you simply pick your unit up to dump it out. And while there’s nothing inherently wrong with having to do so, take a close look at any device you’re considering with this process in mind.
Is the device small and manageable enough to pour it out predictably? Would having handles help? Is there anything about the design of the lid that might interfere with your efforts? Has the lip of the tank been designed to direct fluids and drips away from the unit’s body instead of allowing them to run down it? Does the unit have robust seals between the tank and the device’s body? All of these types of questions are important to consider.
Overall, if you just stay aware of the potential for moisture problems you stand a pretty good chance of avoiding or at least significantly minimizing them. There are probably few things you can do that will help to extend the life of an ultrasonic denture cleaner more than making sure that it remains dry and/or drips and spills are wiped away immediately.
Mechanical durability / reliability.
As you’d expect with any lower-end product, less expensive ultrasonic denture cleaners tend to have a lesser build quality than higher-end models. Comments found in online user reviews tend to reflect this. Here are some of the issues we’ve seen mentioned:
Buttons / Switches.
It’s not uncommon to read about buttons or switches that quit functioning. And in regard to this issue, our first thought would be that in many cases this may really be a moisture-control problem (as discussed above).
Looking for units that have a simple one-touch or one-action design (like buttons preset for time duration or a simple rotating timer knob, both with auto-shutoff) may place you at less risk for problems as opposed to units where there is some minor programming involved or an array of buttons.
While evidently more of a problem for some users than others, cheaper ultrasonic denture cleaners tend to create more of a hum or buzz when they’re turned on.
We will mention that when used a unit is usually only on for about 5 minutes or so. But if you’re concerned about what others may notice about your activities while you’re in your bathroom, this might be an issue.
Warranties. / Customer service.
Don’t just assume that a warranty will come with your new unit because one may not. (In some cases this may have to do with the source from which you have purchased your device, such as an unauthorized dealer). But whatever the circumstances, you should take note of this point.
Similar concerns should be directed toward the potential need for customer service. Deficiencies with either issue are frequently discussed in online reviews like Amazon, so make sure you skim through them so you know. And specifically, look for reply comments from the manufacturer in response to complaints on these types of forums.
b) Features to look for in consumer-level ultrasonic denture cleaners.
While reading through the specs of various units and online user reviews, here are some of the details and issues we picked up on that are important for you to consider when deciding between specific models.
Make sure you buy a unit that’s large enough to hold your dentures.
Consumer-oriented ultrasonics are often designed so they take up as little space on your bathroom counter as possible.
The smallest units –
The specifications stated for some of the most compact ultrasonic denture cleaners mention that they’re designed for cleaning “regular-sized” dentures. Of course this type of statement is relative, but if you anticipate that your false teeth are comparatively larger than other people’s pay notice to this warning.
- Especially in the case where you plan to clean both of your dentures together, they may not both fit in the unit’s tub.
- Even if they do, some portion of them may stick out above the tub’s fluid fill line. If so, that portion won’t experience cleaning. Or you might be inclined to overfill the unit, thus increasing your risk for creating spill/moisture problems.
For cleaning dentures, a device having a 1 cup (.5 pint) tank might be considered to be small. Most people should do OK with units having a 1 pint or larger tank.
Larger units –
With a larger ultrasonic cleaner, you run less of a risk that your dentures won’t fit in it. And you get the added benefit that you can use your unit to clean objects other than just false teeth.
Ultrasonic cleaners can be used to clean a wide assortment of objects, including jewelry, watches and their bands, small automotive parts, and evidently even eyeglasses and CDs / DVDs. So you may want to take into consideration these additional types of functions when picking out a model.
Larger, more versatile units are also more likely to come with a removable basket that’s used to hold the items you are cleaning. You may find this to be a convenient feature.
You’ll probably find one-action controls to be the most convenient to use. This might be push type (auto start/preset time/auto-off) buttons or else a rotary dial. The dexterity of the person using the unit will be a prime consideration on this matter (aged, debilitated or handicapped persons especially).
Timer ranges and presets.
You’ll need to take notice of the timer options you have with the unit you are considering. For daily denture cleaning, a 5-minute duration should be satisfactory.
If you’re planning to use your device to clean objects other than just dentures you may find that short of a duration to be a nuisance. (Note: Some devices state they should not be used for more than two cycles in a row.) We’ve seen units that have timer options/presets ranging from 90 seconds to 30 minutes.
Sonic denture cleaners vs. ultrasonic ones.
When you’re looking for a denture cleaner make sure to get an ultrasonic rather than a sonic one. As their name implies, sonic devices vibrate at a lower speed. And because of this, they don’t agitate the fluids in their tank as vigorously (they don’t create the same type of cavitation cleaning effect).
These types of devices should simply be considered to be fluid “agitators.” And when compared to soaking false teeth in a still bath (no agitation involved) they do offer a minor advantage. But they’re not considered to be as effective as ultrasonic units. (Oussama)
The wattage of the transducer (the electronic mechanism that creates the ultrasonic vibrations) will vary with different models. And while more wattage might be considered to be better, it’s not all that straight forward a detail to consider.
The wattage level needed has to do with how efficiently the transducer passes vibrations to the unit’s tank, as well as the volume of the tank itself. For 1 pint tanks, we’ve seen units ranging from 30 to 60 watts.
b) Higher-end (semi-professional, professional) models.
At a price tag of around $80 on up, you might consider purchasing a higher-end ultrasonic cleaner.
- More expensive units will tend to have a higher build quality, which should translate into greater longevity. That means purchasing a slightly more expensive unit might save you money over the long term.
- While usually more utilitarian/less sleek in appearance, a higher-end unit may have more desirable design features. Foremost on our list would be either a freely removable tank or else a drain.
- Professional units tend to be larger than consumer-oriented ones. This allows you a much wider range of objects that can be cleaned (including the dentures of more than one person at a time, see notes above), although its footprint on your bathroom counter will be larger.
If considering other applications for your unit, make sure the timer options it offers are appropriate for your needs.
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Page references sources:
Aasim S, et al. The effect of pre-soaking and time in the ultrasonic cleaner on the cleanliness of sterilized endodontic files.
Cruz P, et al. The effectiveness of chemical denture cleansers and ultrasonic device in biofilm removal from complete dentures.
Handa RK, et al. Denture cleansers, soft lining materials and water temperature: what is the effect?
Lorton L, et al. Heat-released stress in acrylic dentures.
Oussama M, et al. Materials and methods for cleaning dentures. – A review.
Shay K. Denture Hygiene: A review and update.
All reference sources for topic Complete and Partial Dentures.