What Is a Dental Air Compressor?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A dental air compressor pressurizes atmospheric air for use in procedures. Standard compressors are not suitable for this purpose because they may not meet health and safety standards. Dental firms can choose from an array of models designed for small, medium, and large practices with a variety of features. Like other equipment in the practice, a dental air compressor can be subject to inspection by health department officials to confirm it is safe for use with patients.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

One concern with compressed air is that it can have a very high moisture content, which makes it an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Dental air compressors have a mounted dryer to remove as much water as possible and deliver dry air to patients. This pairs with a filter to clean the air, trapping any microorganisms present so they aren’t transferred into the patient’s mouth. Health and safety codes may require a dryer and filter to protect patients, along with regular cleaning to keep them clean and orderly.

Another issue can be oil in the air. Compressors need lubrication to function, but the oil can get into the airstream, where it could threaten patient health and jeopardize procedures. Some units are oil-free, while others have special sealant systems to prevent leaks. The dental air compressor may also be designed to operate quietly, which can reduce stress for patients who may be worried by the sound of a large engine running near the procedure room.

Some units are portable, allowing practitioners to move them around as needed. Others are mounted in a practice. For hygiene reasons, the dental air compressor is typically attached to short tubing. Dentists may place a unit between two treatment rooms, for example, providing access from either side while leaving the tubes short to reduce the risk of breeding bacteria. The best option for a facility can depend on the number of patients it sees and the kinds of procedures it performs with the use of compressed air.

Both new and used dental air compressor options are available. Some manufacturers offer refurbished units which have been carefully serviced before sale. These units are similar to those that are new, but have a lower price because they’ve been gently used. It may also be possible to rent a unit, which can help defray the startup costs for a dental practice. The equipment needed to start offering services to patients can be substantial, making it expensive to start a new business.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@clintflint - Just be careful you don't go the other way and end up scrubbing too much enamel off your teeth. People who brush too often can risk doing that and then they have to go and get them fixed.

Dentist tools are apparently the best for carving small wooden objects, or bone or jade. I had a long chat with a carver who was putting her skill on display in a museum and she was using the drills and the compressed air to make tiny, intricate patterns in the wood. It was really cool.

And also cool because artists can take older tools that need to be replaced and give them a new life.


@Iluviaporos - It sounds like there are so many fail safes, it's almost certainly not going to be an issue if you go to a decent dentist.

I've never thought of the air compressor as being benign, though. If anything, it's always been my least favorite part. I usually don't feel any of the other stuff once I've been numbed, but I can always feel a little twinge of pain when the air gets blown on my teeth. I don't like it at all.

That's why I'm slightly fanatical about taking care of my teeth. I do not want to have to go to the dentist any more than I have to.


Wow, I had no idea so many things could go wrong with the air compressor. If anything I always thought of it as the most benign part of going to the dentist!

That just gives me one more thing to not like about the dentist, I suppose. But one more thing on the pile isn't really going to make much difference.

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