Electric handpieces: The force and finesse for modern restorative dentistry

Nov. 15, 2016
Joshua Austin, DDS, FAGD, talks about how dental materials have changed over the years, and consequently so should the dental handpieces we use.

My father practiced dentistry for more than 25 years in Amarillo, Texas. His practice was built on the shoulders of gold inlays and onlays and amalgam. While I am sure that plenty of these restorations are still walking around today, my practice is not built on the same procedures. Like the vast majority of you, lithium disilicate and zirconia are the norm in my office.

In this generation, our materials have changed. As such, your handpieces should change too. When I think about a new purchase in my dental practice, I always give priority to equipment that will get the most use. If I am going to put my hard-earned capital toward something, I want it to be a tool I use all the time. We all have equipment we have spent money on that is collecting dust in a storage closet. But what could possibly be used more in a general dentist's office than handpieces? Investing some money in handpieces will reap you rewards on a daily basis.

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You might be asking yourself, Why now? You've survived thus far with air-driven handpieces. Why change now? The answer to that question is devastatingly simple. Electric handpieces offer the force and finesse we need to do our best dentistry.

Let's start with the force. Our restorative world, as mentioned above, has gone monolithic. We no longer lute gold or porcelain-fused-to- metal crowns with zinc phosphate. Now we bond in high-strength ceramic restorations with resin cement. The results are amazing. The esthetics we can achieve are off the charts. Life is great-until it comes time to cut one off. After sweating through cutting off a bonded lithium disilicate restoration, it becomes self-evident why electric handpieces are a game changer in restorative dentistry. They offer the torque and power to cut through lithium disilicate and zirconia. Since these materials are so new, most of us have limited experience in redoing these restorations. As time goes on, more and more will need replacement. And when that happens, you'll be glad to have the force in your hands that you need to save time and your gastrointestinal lining!

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Finesse is just as important as force. Many of us use digital impression systems to capture our preparations for the fabrication of restorations. Digital technology allows us to zoom in and visualize our preparations in detail as never before imagined. One important thing this has taught me is that my eyes often lie with regard to the continuity and smoothness of the finish lines I place. Conversely, we don't often notice the roughness and irregularities in our preparations using traditional impressions. But enlarge that preparation onto a 27-inch, high-definition monitor, and you will immediately see your shortcomings as a clinician.

Electric handpieces make it so easy to dial down the rpm to a low level that allows for beautiful preparation refinements. Just a couple of minutes with a fine diamond bur at 10,000 rpm will bring out a smoothness and continuity in your preparations that you could never achieve simply by trying to do a half step on an air-driven handpiece rheostat. I use handpieces from the KaVo Mastermatic line in my practice. With the addition of what they call their "triple gear technology," these handpieces reduce vibration and whine even at a low rpm. There is no doubt in my mind that electric handpieces make me better at restoring teeth.

A big issue with the early electric handpieces was the large size of the handpiece head. KaVo handpieces have a smaller head and a patented angle that allow them to be used in instances where electrics couldn't be used in the past. Do you see a lot of kids in your practice? No problem. What about distal decay on No. 15? A breeze. With these handpieces, access and visibility are no longer concerns; they truly are electric handpieces for all situations.

A huge component in my internal buying algorithm is support. Will the product be supported by the manufacturer? Will the company help me if and when I have a problem? With KaVo, I know I have a manufacturer who is in the game for the long haul. I can count on them to warranty and support their products.

Electric handpiece systems can fully replace your current air-driven handpiece armada. Whether you need some extra torque to cut through a zirconia crown or the ability to dial down the speed to precisely refine your preps, you can count on the electric handpieces of today to deliver the force and finesse you need to help make you a better, more productive dentist.

Joshua Austin, DDS, FAGD, is an editorial director for Pearls for Your Practice: The Product Navigator, an e-newsletter from DentistryIQ and Dental Economics. He also writes the "Pearls for Your Practice" column in Dental Economics. He graduated from the University of Texas Health Science Center Dental School and runs a solo general practice in a suburban area of San Antonio, Texas. Dr. Austin is involved in all levels of organized dentistry and can be reached at [email protected].

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