This is the story of when our Ramvac Bulldog dental vacuum started making very loud and obnoxious sounds. Upon hearing the sounds, I wasn’t sure if it was about to stop working or if it was going to simply explode.
I’ll tell you all about how we finally figured out what was wrong with it and the steps it took to get there. Luckily we were able to fix the problem and it turned out to be a rather simple one.
Although before we start you should really understand why a functioning dental vacuum is critical to the operations of every dental office in the world.
What is a dental vacuum?
All dental vacuums have one sole purpose and that is to vacuum all of the fluids within the plumbing system of a dental office.
Everyone who has been to the dentist office should know what that means because they’ve personally experienced it for themselves. You know that tool that your dentist or hygienist uses to suction all of your saliva out of your mouth so that you don’t drown? I bet you do because it is literally used for every dental procedure like cleanings, fillings, etc.
That piece of equipment that sucks the saliva out of your mouth doesn’t work based on magic. It is powered by the dental vacuum inside of the mechanical closet.
Essentially what the dental vacuum does is continually suction the fluids that go through the saliva ejector and the HVE (high volume evacuator). If it didn’t work, the patient would have to sit up and spit every minute which can be quite obtrusive to treatment. Imagine having to stop every minute… a cleaning appointment may take 3 hours if that was the case!
Luckily for dentists, the vacuum can clear out all of the pooling saliva without the patient having to spit. This increases effectiveness and efficiency for all dental procedures.
Without it, no dental office can even operate. For that reason alone the dental vacuum is often referred to as the heart of the dental office. It basically helps circulate fluids throughout the entire plumbing system so it is a fairly accurate description.
One day as we were operating as usual, all of a sudden we began hearing loud sounds coming from the mechanical room. We open the door and the noise level intensifies but it seems like it is coming from the ramvac bulldog, our dental vacuum.
We took a video recording of what this faulty noise sounds like with the door closed. Yes, I want to reiterate, that is with the door closed.
By no means is the dental vacuum quiet because it is constantly noisy but it usually generates a very low hum. This piece of equipment literally never stops working the moment you turn it on because it has to continually suction saliva out of patients’ mouths.
We also have a video of what the dental vacuum is normally supposed to sound like. See if you can tell the difference.
What it sounds like to us is the machine is struggling. It seemed as if it had trouble breathing or something like that. Hearing this noise made me very anxious because if it stops working we would have to shut the office down.
Although luckily for us, it seemed like the vacuum was still working despite the obnoxious sounds. However it is certainly not normal for it to sound like that so we need to figure out what is wrong and how to fix it.
Diagnosing the issue
We needed to gather more information to figure out what was wrong with it. What we did notice was that the dental vacuum would start making noises as soon as we power it on at the beginning of the day. However after about 3-4 hours of running, the sound seems to disappear.
Armed with that information, we called Ramvac which was the manufacturer for our product. They asked us when we did maintenance on it, which we actually just completed a month ago. We swapped out the air filters and changed out the oil.
Then they also asked us to check the tension belt on the machine, which we obliged. It didn’t seem like there were any cracks in the belt but that didn’t seem like it would’ve been the culprit in the first place. The tension belts are meant to last at around 5 years or so and we’ve only had the vacuum for about 3 years.
There was only so much that the technician could tell me over the phone so they suggested that I call in a service technician to come on site. Thus, we called Henry Schein and asked them to come look.
Two days later the technician comes and fiddles around with it. It turns out that he had to adjust the spring gasket inside of the air filter.
Basically every time we turn the machine on, this spring gasket starts vibrating violently. However the vibrations would stop once you touch the spring coils with your hand. He repeated it multiple times to show us.
We shut it down and turned it back on. As expected it would start making loud sounds and vibrating once we did. Although as soon as we touch the contraption with our hands, the sounds and vibration would just dissipate.
Essentially the technician said that if it doesn’t go away we would have to replace the whole thing. He told us to give it a few days to see what happens.
Touching the spud washer with your hands did indeed stop the sound and vibrations without fail every single time. We had to do this at the beginning of each day but it was becoming a chore. We shouldn’t have to do this every single day.
Thus, I give Ramvac a call and explain to them what the technician had found earlier in the week. I asked them how I would go about ordering a whole new spring gasket. Fortunately for me, the service tech said that it wasn’t necessary to replace the entire spring gasket. He said that I should try replacing the spud washer first to see if it helps.
As directed, we ordered a spud washer from our equipment supply company and it arrived two days later. It turns out that the spud washer is just a rubber circular piece that goes over the spring coils. What is even more intriguing is that the spud washer is not some proprietary piece of equipment. It is actually the same exact spud washer that you use for toilets.
The replacement process was very simple. You can pull the old spud washer off fairly easily. There weren’t any screws to hold it in. However when I tried to put the new one on, it gave a lot of resistance. It wasn’t difficult per say but just took some work to squeeze it onto the spring coils.
The lesson learned
The problem was solved and everything became clear after I installed the new spud washer. The old one got so worn out that it was LOOSE. The new one was so TIGHT that it was difficult to even put it on.
Basically the old one was so loose that the springs were bouncing up and down clanging into metal. The banging from the springs was what was creating all of that sound. The new spud washer held the springs in place and prevented it from banging into metal. That was why it was a lot quieter.
Well, the lesson that I learned was that if your dental vacuum is making a lot of noises but still functioning, it may be a worn out spud washer. The best part about this is that the replacement part for it is less than $5. The unfortunate part was that if you needed to call in the technician, it was about $300 for the service visit…
If you can fix this problem yourself you can save yourself a lot of money and headaches. The anxiety that you get from dental vacuum problems can be nerve wracking. If it stops working you have to shut down the office!