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The Innovation of Dental Handpieces

The handpiece is an essential element in any dentist’s armamentarium. Dental handpiece can enhance the efficiency of everyday dental tasks. Through the years, handpieces have gradually been redesigned and upgraded to become the highly accurate and sophisticated tools they are today. Technological advances continue to improve these indispensable instruments.

Selecting the right handpiece is critical to helping ensure the smooth operation of everyday activities. The two primary types of handpieces—air-driven and electric—have unique characteristics with specific benefits and drawbacks. Both can achieve excellent results, therefore it is important to understand the differences and advantages of each.

The use of air-driven “high-speed” handpieces enabled clinicians to work more expeditiously with reduced trauma to the tooth and the patient. This development presented a major improvement from the “belt-driven” handpieces that preceded them and represents one of the most significant leaps forward in the era of modern dentistry. Low-speed handpieces are now reserved primarily for finishing and polishing procedures, prophylaxis, and laboratory applications. Most dental delivery units contain both a high- and low-speed handpiece to provide the dentist with an instrument whose speed is specific to the operation that is being performed.

Because an air-driven handpiece with automatic torque control can literally “sense” the degree of “resistance” when cutting through various materials, constant speed and torque are delivered to the cutting instrument, making it unique among traditional high-speed air-driven dental handpieces. In the author's experience, when cutting through enamel, the hardest substance in the body, this type of device gives the operator a fast, efficient cut that leaves the preparation margins ultra smooth.

Electric handpieces (with variable revolutions per minute ) are available that give dentists added benefits when compared to their traditional air-driven counterparts.  In many clinical situations, an electric handpiece can perform the same functions that both an air-driven high-speed and separate low-speed unit can. Since most clinicians still prefer individual handpieces for high and low speeds so they can be more efficient chairside, this may not make a difference when choosing between the two systems; however, the higher initial investment for electric handpieces may be a consideration for some clinicians.

Innovations come and go in dentistry, with some being more impactful than others. The introduction of the air-driven handpiece nearly 60 years ago has proven to be a revolutionary advancement that genuinely changed the way dentists prepare teeth to receive dental restorative materials.  Technological advances continue to improve these indispensable instruments.


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