How to Profit From...handpieces — The best way to prep teeth

Oct. 1, 2001
Imagine trying to cut through enamel with a carbide bur turning at 10,000 rpm.

by Joseph A. Blaes, DDS

Imagine trying to cut through enamel with a carbide bur turning at 10,000 rpm. Imagine the bur beginning to glow because of the heat it generates. Imagine the handpiece connected to a series of pulleys and belts that create vibration and noise. Imagine the revolution that occurred when an air-driven handpiece eliminating all of these problems came onto the market! I used that belt-driven handpiece in dental school. In my senior year, some of the clinic chairs were equipped with the Borden Air Rotors, and we all clamored to get a chance to use this new handpiece. Dentistry was changed forever!

Today, we take this wonderful invention for granted. We are more concerned with the torque the handpiece will produce or how well it holds up with continuous heat sterilization. If you get frustrated, just think about what dentists used before air-driven handpieces were available.

The big news in handpiece development today is the electric handpiece. It is now my favorite for cutting teeth. There are two main benefits:

  • Torque throughout the speed range
  • Less noise

Now, imagine a handpiece that has constant torque at any speed. Imagine a handpiece that does not slow down or lose torque when you touch enamel with the bur or diamond. Imagine a handpiece that would allow you to cut through a tooth from facial to lingual without stalling. The electric handpiece will do this. There is a learning curve with the handpiece, because if you push too hard, the bur will heat up and quickly ruin a diamond-cutting instrument.

The electric handpiece is powered by an electric motor located directly behind the high-speed handpiece. The handpiece head does not contain any ball bearings, so there is less maintenance and less noise. All other features of air-driven handpieces are available with the electric handpiece, such as air and water coolant spray, fiber-optic light, push-button bur changing, and quick change of the handpiece. A complete range of accessory handpieces is available as well.

This handpiece-control system has been made to retrofit to existing installations very easily. Simply disconnect your current high-speed handpiece and attach the tubing connector to the back of the control system. Plug in the control system and you are ready to go. The electric handpiece hangs up where your air-driven handpiece was and is controlled by the same foot control. There are no additional foot controls to litter the floor. All of this takes only a few minutes. The handpiece-control system also can be located inside your unit, but this connection is better made by a dental-service technician.

It is important to carefully follow the maintenance instructions included with the electric handpiece that you buy. A proper maintenance schedule will extend the life of any handpiece. Consider buying one of the new cleaning and oiling stations that do a complete maintenance job in a matter of minutes. These are available through KaVo America Corp. or A-dec®/W&H®.

Whether or not you are using an electric handpiece or an air-driven handpiece, it is very important to use replacement parts that are manufactured for your handpiece by the original manufacturer. If you have an XYZ-brand handpiece and you replace the bearings with an ABC-brand cartridge, then it is no longer an XYZ-brand handpiece and its performance will change. You have spent a certain amount of money to purchase what you considered to be the best brand of handpiece. I think it is important to protect that investment by repairing the handpiece with parts from the original manufacturer. Sure, this is usually more expensive at the time, but it does extend the life of the handpiece, and you make less-frequent repairs when it is done correctly with original parts.

A dental handpiece is an FDA-classified medical device, and repair facilities are required to follow specific guidelines. If you send your handpiece to an unauthorized repair facility that says it uses original parts, can you really be sure? Maybe this facility is only putting new bearings in a used cartridge and not balancing the completed product the way it should be. When you get the handpiece back, the chuck may begin to wobble after a couple of weeks, and this is amplified into the bur. You will think something is wrong with the handpiece, so you call the manufacturer, who then asks if you have had any repairs made on the handpiece. Guess what? Since the handpiece was repaired at an unauthorized facility, your handpiece warranty is void. Bummer! Avoid the hassles and use an authorized handpiece repair facility.

If you are considering buying a new handpiece, take a hard look at the electric handpiece before you make your purchase. You may want to equip only one treatment room with this type of handpiece. Most offices have a favorite treatment room used for long procedures. This is the perfect treatment area for the electric handpiece. Most manufacturers will let you try their equipment in your office before you purchase.

I am able to cut on teeth quickly and easily with more accuracy than ever before with an electric handpiece. I can do this with less trauma to the tooth and to the patient. The handpiece does not require a high rpm for torque, so it is much quieter than air-driven handpieces. The lower noise levels make for a more comfortable treatment for both the patient and the dental team. I am able to slow down the handpiece to do the final finishing steps on my preparations.

I have not used my slow-speed handpiece for cavity preparation in a long time. Consequently, I have noticed much less hand fatigue at the end of a procedure. This is due to the good balance of the handpiece and the fact that it has taken less time to complete the procedure.

The electric handpiece would top my list of must-have dental instruments. This is the one piece of equipment that you use the most in your treatment room. Why not have the very best?

There are three major manufacturers of electric handpieces:

  • Bien-Air USA, Inc. — (800) 433-2436
  • KaVo America Corp. — (888) 528-6872
  • A-dec®/W&H® — (800) 547-1883

All of these companies sell through the dealer network. Call your dealer or visit their booths in the exhibit area of a dental meeting.

The electric handpiece would top my list of must-have dental instruments. This is the one piece of equipment that you use the most in your treatment room. Why not have the very best?

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