Choosing the Right Handpiece

Handpieces are motor-driven devices used mainly in dental and surgical procedures. There are universal devices and others for specific applications. As the name suggests, handpieces are designed to be handled with one hand, so they need to be ergonomic. They have a system for attaching drills and other rotating or oscillating instruments, depending on the type of procedure that will be carried out. The term “handpiece” covers various types of devices with very different characteristics, as we’ll see below.

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  • What are the main criteria for choosing a handpiece?

    There are several characteristics to take into account when choosing a handpiece, such as operating mode, speed, torque, and size. Here are the most important features to consider:

    • Mode of operation: Electric or air-driven
    • Speed
    • Torque: The working speed or the time it takes the handpiece to remove a given amount of dental material
    • Bur rotation concentricity: Allows the manufacturing quality of the bur tip to be checked
    • Noise level: It is important to pay attention to the noise intensity produced by the device, both to offer greater comfort to the patient and to protect the professional’s hearing
    • Compatible applications
    • Material
    • Cost
    • Warranty period: This is an excellent indication of the manufacturer’s confidence in the product itself
  • What types of handpieces are there?

    There are both electric and air handpieces. Here are the advantages and disadvantages of each:

    Electric handpieces


    • Less noise and vibration compared to air models
    • Constant speed and torque, resulting in more even cuts
    • Versatile (a single motor for different applications)
    • LED light available on newer models
    • The head has a smaller diameter, providing a better viewing angle


    • More expensive

    Air-driven handpieces


    • Smaller and lighter than electric ones
    • More accessible and easier to handle
    • More comfortable for the professional, particularly because they cause less fatigue
    • Higher speed


    • Noisier
    • More vibration
    • The louder noise and vibration can make many patients anxious.

    Two main types of handpieces:

    • Electric
    • Air-driven
  • What are handpieces used for?

    These instruments are mainly used in dentistry. Their characteristics vary according to the dental specialties for which they are intended. There are handpieces available for:

    PacDent dental prophylaxis handpiece

    W&H dental surgery handpiece

    Zubler dental laboratory handpiece

  • High-speed or low-speed handpiece?

    The speed you need will depend on the procedures for which the device is intended. Handpieces can be divided into two categories depending on speed: High-speed (also called turbines) and low-speed (sometimes called micromotors).

    High-speed handpieces, or turbines, generally have speeds between 200,000 and 450,000 revolutions per minute (rpm). They are used for removing cavities, preparing crowns, removing old or damaged restorations, preparing contour and retention grooves for new restorations, or finishing and polishing restorations.

    Low-speed handpieces have micromotors, which can be either electric or air-driven. Electric motors have a max speed of 50,000 rpm and air motors 20,000 rpm. In dental practices, they are used to remove decayed soft tissue, prepare cavities, and polish and finish restorations. In dental laboratories, they are used to cut, carve, and polish temporary crowns, removable partial dentures, and orthodontic appliances.

    NSK high-speed handpiece

    BienAir dental micromotor

    Morita endodontic micromotor

    Classification of handpieces according to speed:

    • High-speed handpieces or turbines
    • Low-speed handpieces or micromotors
  • What are the different materials and configurations of handpieces?

    Handpieces are available in various materials and configurations.


    The material from which a handpiece is made largely determines its strength and durability. Here are the materials most commonly used to manufacture handpieces:

    • Titanium: Light, hard, and resistant; these characteristics are highly sought after by dentists. Using a handpiece can be tiring, particularly due to its vibrations. It is therefore recommended to work with a light and effective handpiece.
    • Aluminum
    • Chrome


    • Straight handpieces: This is the most common configuration.
    • Contra-angles / angled handpieces: These have one or more curves so that the axis of the drill and the axis of the handpiece form an angle. They are useful for reaching hard-to-reach areas of the mouth.
  • How much does a handpiece cost?

    The price can vary from a few hundred to several thousand euros, depending on the brand and the options available. Maintenance and repair costs must also be taken into account.

  • What options are available for handpieces?

    Certain characteristics, such as lighting and spray types, have a major influence on the ergonomics and performance of the handpiece.

    The work area must be well-lit, which is why some handpieces come with a built-in LED light. Although these are generally more expensive than devices without a light, they make the professional’s job easier.

    As far as sprays are concerned, there are both water and air jets available. The water jets cool the tooth and avoid overheating of the dental pulp. They also cool the inside of the handpiece head so that it doesn’t overheat and become damaged. Air jets are used to remove excess material so that the professional can get a good look at the area they are treating.

  • How do you keep your handpiece in good condition?

    Certain daily precautions are essential to ensure proper functioning and prolong the lifespan of the handpiece.

    Internal lubrication, cleaning, and sterilization are essential for the equipment to work properly and in good hygienic conditions. If these are not carried out properly and regularly, small fragments could accumulate inside the device and prevent the drill bit from attaching correctly. Therefore, you should opt for handpieces that are easy and quick to dismantle.

    For sterilization, you must take into account the maximum temperature indicated for the instruments. Generally, a professional class B autoclave will suffice.

    In addition, it is imperative to respect the use restrictions and never use the handpiece for purposes other than those intended by the manufacturer. For example, a general-purpose handpiece should never be used in surgery, as it could become damaged or rust.

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