Handpiece Myths

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Handpieces are central to your work and artistry. But despite how important they are to the dental practice, many dentists share some common misconceptions about these powerful tools. These myths can cause inefficiencies, and some can compromise patient safety. This article summarizes just a few of these myths while giving tips on maximizing your handpieces’ effectiveness.

Myth No. 1: You can use electric and air-driven handpieces similarly.

Until recently, dental schools in the U.S. and Canada typically instructed students exclusively on handpieces with air-driven motors. Dentists learned techniques such as “feathering,” in which they brush the tooth lightly with the bur as with a paintbrush. This technique effectively compensates for the handpiece’s varying levels of power.

Using an air-driven handpiece, the dentist is the one who applies force when cutting the tooth. Despite the prevalence of air-driven handpieces, there are several common complaints, primarily that the technology does not deliver enough power and is too noisy.

These complaints have contributed to the increasing use of electric handpieces. With this mode, unlimited power in the handpiece makes it easy for dentists to cut efficiently. Electric handpieces also provide steady force and are quieter than air-driven handpieces. This is a critical factor in the patient experience. But, for a dentist accustomed to using only an air-driven handpiece, using an electric handpiece is a different experience. Many dentists who attempt to teach themselves to use these devices have limited success.

The truth is, just as a sculptor needs various tools for different types of work, dentists should use electric and air-driven handpieces for other purposes with different techniques. An electric handpiece, such as a milling machine, provides steady power and cutting, while an air-driven handpiece is excellent for minimally invasive procedures. Dentists must invest time in proper training to use both types most efficiently.

Myth No. 2: A general restorative motor is an implant capable.

Recently, many manufacturers have claimed that the general restorative motors on their handpieces are implanted capable. The FDA has been cracking down on these claims. Several reasons for using an available engine for implant dentistry must be corrected.

First, a general motor does not have enough power to cover the needs of the full range of implants on the market. A specialized implant motor provides 5 Nm of torque, while a general, restorative engine ranges between 2.5 Nm and 3.5 Nm. If a handpiece cannot effectively drive the implant during placement, this poses a significant safety problem.

Additional safety problems arise when you consider the need for a continuous flow of sterile irritants during implant placement and to shut off coolant air to avoid an embolism. General restorative motors have air coolant running to the motor, which exhausts around the attachment. Even if a dentist used a surgical passion with the available restorative engine, there would still be a significant air flow around the handpiece.

Manufacturers claiming oral surgery functions for their general restorative motors do not have FDA clearance to do so. Safety-minded dentists should stick to specialized engines for these purposes.

Myth No. 3: A warranty on my handpiece turbine must mean it will last longer.

Generally, a new model turbine will last 9 to 12 months, regardless of the warranty. Manufacturers offer various warranties on various terms. The bottom line is that the manufacturer should not require a contract to address the problem if a product does not perform to specification. A reputable manufacturer or handpiece repair company will stand behind a company’s products and fix or replace a faulty unit.

Pay attention to the age and performance of your handpieces. When the time comes to switch out the turbine, send it to a reputable handpiece repair company. Alternatively, you can replace the turbine by using instructions from the manufacturer.

Dental handpieces are unique pieces of equipment with impressive capabilities. You can maximize their utility in your practice by keeping yours in good working order and using them safely and correctly.