Ask Marty: What are your thoughts on switching to an electric handpiece?

2014 02 13 13 44 51 873 Ask Marty200x200

Q: I am thinking of switching from an air-driven to an electric handpiece. What are your thoughts?

A: I am an electric handpiece user and would never consider going back to an air-driven handpiece. In fact, the only time I use an air-driven handpiece is when I adjust the occlusion on a crown. I currently use Bien-Air handpieces in my office and have used the Dentsply NuTorque.

2010 02 04 10 59 16 527 Bien Air Optima Mx Handpiece
The Optima MX INT handpiece by Bien-Air.

The motor unit can sit or be mounted to the bracket table. The touchscreen makes adjusting the settings simple and also allows for multiple presets so that you can just touch a button to go to your favorite settings.

The main advantage of all electric handpieces is higher torque, which enables constant cutting so you can actually mill the tooth. The improved tactile feel and the ability to dial in any RPM allow you to better prepare teeth, especially the margins of the preparation.

In addition, electric handpieces are quieter, which is better for both the doctor and patient. And the same handpiece motor can be used for different procedures, such as endodontics and implant surgery. There is no need to buy separate motors, just the correct handpiece attachment. At 200,000 RPMs, preparing a tooth is simple. Then you can adjust the RPMs to 20,000 and remove decay. And removing decay under water spray makes the job much more efficient as the bur does not clog.

The main disadvantages of electric handpieces are their increased cost and the fact that they are heavier than the air-driven handpieces. The cost differential can partially be made up for by the fact that electric handpieces require less maintenance. There is also the reduced cost of handpiece motors if you place implants or do your own endodontics. As for the weight, the electric handpieces are pretty well-balanced, so for most hands it should not be a problem.

Some systems are a hybrid of both air and electric. Another system from ProDrive Systems uses a standard air handpiece with a special turbine that holds triangular-shaped bur shafts. This produces increased torque and minimizes burr chatter. You have to buy these special burs from ProDrive, but they come in all kinds of shapes and are priced the same as your standard burs.

2010 02 04 10 59 19 748 Pro Drive Handpiece
The ProDrive Systems handpiece.

Martin Jablow, D.M.D., is a practicing dentist and a self-professed technophile who lectures and blogs on a variety of technologies used in dentistry ( If you have a technology question for Dr. Jablow, e-mail it to us at

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