The Different Types of Dental Handpieces

Dental handpieces constitute the go-to tool for a dental practice. It is the most common instrument used by dentists, implemented for anything from simple procedures to complex treatments such as root canals.

In this guide, we will give you an overview of the types of dental handpieces available on the market today. This is not designed to be an exhaustive list of every single product available, as there are many combinations available, but rather to give you insight into the various aspects that constitute a distinct type of handpiece.

Different Types of Dental Handpieces

Maintenance Is More Important Than Brand

Before we delve into the different types of dental handpieces, let’s first discuss the universal importance of correct maintenance of your equipment. No matter the individual type of handpiece or its function, you must ensure maintenance is at the top of your priority list to guarantee optimal care for patients.

The leading brands all adhere to strict quality control standards and offer high-end products. You should therefore not be concerned that patients will receive substandard care, assuming you opt for well-known manufacturers.

When it comes to handpieces, maintenance and care of your dental equipment are far more important than how much you spend on the individual products or the brand you choose. Fortunately, the process is generally relatively simple and requires just a few steps (highlighted in the above link).

Air-Driven and Electric Handpieces

The main identifier of a handpiece is the power system used: air-driven or electric. Air-driven, otherwise known as air turbine handpieces, are the most common type. They are found in almost every practice, and can be used for the majority of procedures.

One of the reasons they are so popular is that they are more affordable. They are not only cheaper to purchase, but the cost of repair and maintenance is also far lower.

In the United States, electric handpieces constitute 30% of the overall handpiece market, with analysts predicting that this percentage will grow in the coming decade. There are several reasons for this, including improved control in newer models, and a far quieter motor.

High-speed vs Low-speed Handpieces

Whether your dental practice uses electric or air-driven models, they are both either low or high-speed in type. Of course, there is some variance within each type also.

High-speed models are generally used for preparatory procedures, such as the removal of enamel or tissue. Slow-speed models, on the other hand, are employed for precision procedures that are heavy-duty, such as the removal of cavities or restorative work.

High-speed handpieces can reach 450,000rpm, although the definition of a high-speed model starts at approximately 180,000rpm. Due to this high rotation speed, these models will need to be coupled with a cooling element, such as a spray tool attached to an external water supply.

For slow-speed models, the highest they can go is roughly 80,000rpm. However, you will generally find that the average slow-speed dental handpiece will hover around 40,000 rpm.

Considering slow-speed models are used for very specific treatment procedures, they generally work with attachments. These are chosen on a case-by-case basis, depending on patient needs.

Handpieces for Specialized Dental Treatment

For procedures that require tools that are a little more customized, dentists can either purchase purpose-built handpieces or use attachments, as highlighted above.

For instance, with implant dentistry as the current fastest-growing speciality in dentistry, various improvements and options have been developed. For example, 3D imaging and implant placement guided by a computer are being coupled with handpiece equipment to provide optimal results.

Implant handpieces/attachments are essentially designed to slow down the drill, with a 20:1 gear ratio to standard handpieces, creating the required torque to penetrate the bone.

For other procedures, such as bone smoothing, canal apex resection, or extractions, dentists will generally use electric handpieces with high torque and low speeds. They are generally designed with the inclusion of vents, which expel air away from the oral cavity, thus preventing the inclusion of debris into the surgical region.

This guide has given you a general overview of the different types of handpieces available, providing a base guide when choosing dental equipment. However, for other specialized procedures, such as osteotomies or bone modelling, you may need to do additional research to find a purpose-built model that exists outside of the discussed definitions.

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