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Why It’s A Bad Idea To Use An Ultrasonic Tooth Cleaner (Or Other Tools) At Home

Ultrasonic cleaner being used on model of teeth

DIY ultrasonic cleaning has gained prominence recently, and an increased number of products are being advertised for it.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

It is unnecessary for plaque removal, and you can’t use it to remove tartar instead of going to the dentist.

An ultrasonic tooth cleaner that you can use at home might sound like a good idea. You might be hoping this will save you a trip to the hygienist. But alas, it’s too good to be true.

Read on to find out:

  • What an ultrasonic tooth cleaner is
  • How an ultrasonic tooth cleaner works
  • Why it’s a bad idea to use products like these at home

What Is An Ultrasonic Tooth Cleaner? 

I am talking about ultrasonic tooth cleaners that are marketed for you to use at home. These are different to the scalers used for professional cleaning.

These are products you can buy online and in shops.

These products make claims that they remove plaque, tartar and stains by using vibrations. 

They typically have a metal tip, although some also come with alternative tips such as a rubber based cleaner. They are powered devices, using removable or rechargeable batteries.

DIY ultrasonic tooth cleaners can be called a few different things. Names I have come across include:

  • Ultrasonic Tooth Cleaner
  • Sonic Home Dental System
  • Electric Plaque Removal Tool
  • Electric Interdental Brush
  • Electric Dental Calculus Remover 

Why It’s A Bad Idea To Use Products Like These At Home

We purchased and tested two different types of at home dental scalers.

After trialling two different products, I can better explain the problems with at home calculus removers.

The potential problems are divided into damage they can do in the mouth and false manufacturers’ claims.

Ultrasonic Cleaners Will Damage Your Teeth And Gums

DIY dental scalers can damage the gums. The sharp metal tip will traumatise the gum if used incorrectly. High vibration rate will also irritate the gum disease and cause damage, especially because there is no water flow.

Ultrasonic scalers can dent and scratch the enamel surface if used incorrectly. This is also true for professional scalers, which is why, as dentists, we are trained in how to use them safely.

The at-home ultrasonic cleaners can damage existing dental work. This includes white composite fillings and metal fillings. They could also scratch crowns and veneers too. Scratching these surfaces will make them more prone to staining and plaque buildup.

Using a scaler which has high vibrations without water can cause the tooth to overheat. This will damage the nerve of the tooth in the pulp. Ultimately, this can be irreversible and result in the tooth dying off. In the models I tested, they did not vibrate fast enough to produce heat.

Such instruments bought in a shop and used at home are not sterile. You could, unknowingly, bring harmful bacteria into your mouth and underneath your gums which could cause an infection.

You cannot clean them effectively at home. When these go in the mouth, they pick up the bacteria that are on your teeth and under your gums. Cleaning products you have at home will not full clean the surfaces of the scaling tips.

False Promises From Manufacturers Of DIY Scalers

At home ultrasonic scalers don’t really work.

It is very difficult to remove stains from teeth using these products. I have only very light staining and found this a challenge to remove, even when using the correct movements I know from dental training. It is unlikely you will get the effect you desire at home. 

I am not convinced they will remove tartar/calculus as promised either.

The manufacturers are claiming these are safe, even for children. The JML manual says that children from age 8 can use the product, as well as “persons with reduced physical, sensory or mental capabilities”. I would disagree. Most children don’t have the right dexterity to be able to brush effectively, let alone use a sharp metal instrument in their mouth!

By purchasing these products you will be wasting your money. The extra plastics and materials used place an unnecessary burden on the environment for an item that doesn’t work.

Products I Tested

I ordered a couple of ultrasonic cleaners in so I could put them to the test. As you will find out from my brief reviews below, the results are disappointing.

JML DentaPic Sonic

DentaPic Sonic 3000 From JML in its packaging
Dental tools and plaque scraper next to model of teeth

The first was the JML DentaPic Sonic (picture above). I unboxed it, read the manual and set it up to go. 

The handle has an on/off button and a light.

My first thought was about how sharp the metal tip is. I would strongly advise against anyone except adults with good mobility putting this anywhere near their teeth or gums! 

I tried it on my fingernail first, and was surprised by the power output. Next I tried it on my teeth. I have a small amount of staining between my lower central incisors so thought I should start there. 

Does the DentaPic Sonic remove stains? Yes. But it took a long time and it didn’t even manage to completely remove a small stain. The sharp tip also actually scratched the enamel surface a little bit and damaged the white filling material in place for my Invisalign treatment. 

I also tried the scaler on a mock up of calculus. I applied PolyFilla (a multipurpose hole filler for walls) to a denture and allowed it to dry. I then used the scaler on the denture. It did cause the top layer to flake off, but otherwise it just scratched into the white filler material. 

JML Dentapic Scaler Demo

Will it remove tartar? Unlikely. On using it with the metal tip, I can feel that the vibrations are not enough to remove calculus. The metal tip was sharp on the gums, and I really would advise you to avoid using this unless you know what you are doing. 

Even if you do have the skills to not damage the gums, the scaler doesn’t actually do anything. 

I also tried the rubber tip. This was useless. The vibrations that come from the hand tool aren’t transmitted down the silicone (due to it being a flexible material). So this also doesn’t remove any stains or tartar. It’s not fine enough to clean between the teeth to replace other interdental cleaning methods either. 

Overall, a waste of money!

“Dental Calculus Remover” (from Amazon)

Dental Calculus Remover In Box
Dental Calculus Remover Box Open Showing Contents

The second product was from Amazon — “the second generation of Dental calculus remover” (pictured above). This rechargeable option came in a white box. 

There are two different metal head attachments. The scaling tips actually look very similar to the professional scaler tips. The handle has three different speeds and an in-built light.

I read the instructions, whilst waiting for the handle to charge. Reassuringly, this product advises against children using it.  

Again, I first tried it on a fingernail to get a first impression. This one seems to have a higher rate of vibrations, in my opinion. This time I tried it on a bit of staining between the upper left canine and lateral incisor. 

It does definitely remove stains. It takes a while though. Again, when I tried it on the composite buttons for my retainers, there was some damage.

When I used this scaler on the Polyfilla’d denture, it was less effective than the JML scaler. Like the JML scaler, it flaked off the very fine dusty layer of filler. It also scratched into the filler layer. But it definitely did not remove the filler in the way I would expect a scaler to.

Dental Scaler (Bought From Amazon) Demo

Will it remove tartar? Maybe. But probably not.

Similar Products To Those I Have Tested

Although I haven’t tested the following products, the specifications are very similar to those I have tested and therefore they are unlikely to be effective.

But regardless of their effectiveness, the same advice applies about them having the potential to damage your teeth and gums, and therefore I don’t recommend using them:

  • Smirk ultrasonic tooth cleaner
  • Sonoshine
  • Smile therapy
  • Teeth saviour
  • Dentrie
  • Ivory Oral
  • Sanipik
  • OnlySmiles
  • MyOralGift

If you come across any products similar to these, please let us know in the comments section below.

How Do These Differ To Ultrasonic Cleaning You Receive At The Dentist? 

Professional ultrasonic scalers are used by dentists and dental hygienists. They remove tartar and staining from above and below the gum line. They can be powered via the dental chair or as a separate unit.

These at home scalers do not move as fast as professional scaling tips. Professional ultrasonic scalers vibrate at a speed that is faster than you can hear (ultra sonic). This is somewhere between 20,000 and 45,000 times per second. There are also profesional sonic scalers that vibrate 3000 to 8000 times per second. The tips I tested were less than this.

These at DIY scrapers do not have a water supply. All professional scalers have a water supply. The purpose of this is to help cool down the metal tip. The water flow also helps the cleaning mechanism underneath the gum level.

It is possible for professional ultrasonic scalers to damage the enamel surface of the teeth and dental work. This is also true for the DIY tartar removers.

In fact, a lot of the problems I have listed for these at home scalers are also true for professional cleaning. The at home scalers move fast enough to cause damage, but not enough to be effective!

The main difference is that dental professionals know how to handle the tools to avoid causing damage. They can also identify any damage caused and remedy it, something which is not possible at home.

What To Do If You Are Considering Buying One Of These Products? 

Simple answer: please don’t buy an ultrasonic tooth cleaner to use at home.

There is no need to purchase one of these DIY scrapers to remove plaque. Plaque does not have a strong bond to your teeth and can be removed with toothbrushing and interdental cleaning.

See my advice on the best way to remove plaque.

You aren’t able to use anything to remove tartar without going to the dentist. The bond between the tartar and the tooth surface is too strong.

Instead of buying one of these products, invest your time and effort into getting into a good oral hygiene routine.

Preventing plaque build up will improve your oral health. Removing plaque helps prevent tartar and staining.

Small changes in your diet can also reduce staining. For example, avoiding foods that stain your teeth, or rinsing after having staining drinks such as coffee.

Routine - Important For Dental Health

Electric toothbrushes are more effective at removing plaque. A good toothbrush would be a better investment than one of these scrapers.

Make sure you are cleaning in between the teeth. Interdental cleaning is important for plaque removal and gum health. Get information about whether you should be using interdental brushes, floss or a water flosser here.

Book and appointment with a dental professional for calculus and stain removal. They may do a scale and polish. An alternative treatment would be using an air flow or similar.

About Dr. Gemma Wheeler, BDS (Hons)

Gemma qualified from Cardiff University School of Dentistry in 2015. She went on to complete her Foundation Training and a further two years in the Armed Forces, primarily based around Wiltshire. She now works in a private practice in Plymouth.

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24 thoughts on “Why It’s A Bad Idea To Use An Ultrasonic Tooth Cleaner (Or Other Tools) At Home”

  1. Excellent professional report Gemma, well done. Clear information on the limited use and effectiveness of these units.

    Reply
  2. Hi Dr Gemma,

    I recently purchased an inexpensive ultrasonic cleaner, and have just tested it on myself. I had a visible build-up of tartar on my lower, front incisors, as I have not been able to visit a dentist as much as I’d like over the last 3 years (due to moving to different countries).

    Whilst I cannot argue against your point about the possibility of damaging enamel or gums if used incorrectly (and regular dental visits are certainly no substitute for DIY denistry) – I can say that I was impressed at how effective the tool was at removing the tartar build up on my teeth.

    Although it took about 10 minutes to figure out the best angle – and it’s a little awkward doing it yourself, after I got the hang of it, I was able to remove all the visible tartar. It was even coming off in big flakes.

    I won’t share the link to the cleaner I bought (I don’t want this to appear like spam – although I’d be happy to if you request) – but it was a non-branded tool and cost less than £35 from Amazon.

    So – I’m sure there are risks if you don’t know what you’re doing, but in my experience – they can and do remove tartar (at least – mine did).

    cheers

    Reply
  3. Protecting the dentist industry when some people can’t get to a dentist.. I guess you don’t read the review online on these products no didn’t think so..

    Reply
  4. Was tempted to by sonoshine tonight. So glad I came across your reviews and advice, will not be buying any of these gimmicks.
    Thank you😁

    Reply
  5. Very helpful, well-explained and informative review. Many thanks Gemma – you’ve even made me reconsider my practice of USO’s dental scraper to deal with occasional tartar buildups around the gums of my front teeth.

    Reply
  6. That’s very sound advice, however a trip to the dentist is beyond most peoples affordability nowadays. Waiting lists for NHS are months plus plus long and the cost of private dental care beyond the means of someone on an average British income.
    As someone in need of so much work doing I dare not even go for a check up.
    When one knows they will need treatment way beyond my means its a case of waiting for an emergency to arise.
    That’s the reality for most people.

    Reply
  7. Interesting article.

    I bought one of these items last year and honestly it broke within a minute as it was so flimsy. You can forget about getting a refund the company wasn’t interested despite advertising a 90 day trial period. I had paid through PayPal so knew I would get my money back, actually not true either another misdemeanour PayPal weren’t interested. So not only did the product not work I didn’t get the refund I expected. Stay clear it is a scam it doesn’t work and you won’t get your money back.

    Reply
  8. Is SonoShine also a bad product too? I just saw one advertised, then I saw your article, so I will avoid the purchase. Seeing a dentist is no easy these days.

    Reply
    • Unfortunately Will SonoShine isn’t a good product either. Totally understand about seeing the dentist but using SonoShine is going to be ineffective.

      Reply
  9. On Monday January 24, 2022, I was going to purchase a Sono Shine device from watching 5 minutes of the commercial on YouTube. I clicked the link and was transferred to the site. I filled out the form and clicked the button to process the purchase but, it did not go through.

    I searched for the Sono Shine device in a separate window on my phone and then saw Electric Teeth’s pop up in the result list. I read the article and was thankful to God that the purchase did not go through and read the article. Leave it to the professionals when it comes to my teeth.

    I wanted to purchase the scaler for convenience on traveling to the dentist and save money. However, after reading the well informed essay I realized that I would have done more harm than good. I didn’t realize the purpose of running water was to cool the tip of the machine and to avoid damage to the tooth(tooth death) and gum.

    Reply
  10. Hello Dr. Gemma
    To be honest, you have provided a logical ground of informed
    purchase decision for the general public in regards to these products.
    I must agree that, probably like many people; I was very confused when I saw the sensationalised paid campaigned for them in the media,
    Many thanks for your candid and fearless professional assessments of these DIY Ultrasonic Tooth Cleaners.
    I should be visiting my dentist very soon to have a professional treatment.
    Best Wishes & Regards
    Oladele Adeyemi (LLM)

    Reply
  11. Very clear advice. There are too many products like this that are too readily available and the makers are actually making false claims.
    I trust Dr Wheeler’s professional opinion on this particular product, especially as she is clearly giving an unbiased, expert opinion as opposed to trying to flog a product. The people who sell these dodgy gimmicks online are the modern equivalent of the old quacks who sold snake oil to the gullible.

    Reply
  12. Is it possible for you to emphasis the conflict of interest that you are a dentist and you make money from people using dentists and not when they use home treatments. That would make this article more honest and transparent for the readers benefit.

    Reply
    • Thank you for the comment. We understand the point you are making and acknowledge the possible conflict of interest.

      I do believe this possible conflict is minimal.

      Electric Teeth is an independent organisation, that wishes to help people make more informed decisions about their oral health.

      Electric Teeth employ the services of dentists like Gemma Wheeler, who authored this post to ensure the content we are providing is factually/medically correct.

      As a dental professional she has tested these products and assessed them from a medical and consumer point of view to come to the conclusions documented here.

      Whilst arguably dental professionals will benefit from people undertaking cleanings with them, we are not promoting, selling, or offering any specific services of dental professionals/dental practices. We do not benefit, financially or otherwise from recommending against these products.

      Quite simply we want to ensure that you and others are getting what they expect from such products and are not risking their oral health.

      Of course, you and others are free to take away from this article what you wish and if you believe there is a conflict of interest then I wish not to contest this, simply make clear our stance.

      Should you wish to know more about us or our ethics policy, please refer to our about page that explains our position at length.

      Reply
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