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How to get the most out of your electric handpiece

Dental Products ReportDental Products Report-2013-05-01
Issue 5

Thinking about investing in electric handpieces for your practice? Here’s what you need to know from benefits to integration to maintenance.

Thinking about investing in electric handpieces for your practice? Here’s what you need to know from benefits to integration to maintenance.

It can be difficult to transition away from techniques we’ve known since dental school, particularly the ones we use every day.

However, in many cases, newer tools and techniques can help us perform our work better and more efficiently.

Handpieces provide a great example of this. Most of us probably learned our handpiece technique on air-driven handpieces. While these traditional handpieces are certainly capable of doing good work, in the past few years I have encouraged my students at the University of Washington to try their hand with electric handpieces as well.

My experience using electric handpieces over the past seven years has convinced me that in many instances they are preferable to air-driven. Each dentist must determine what he or she needs in a handpiece. My own practice is equipped with both types, but in the majority of cases today I find myself reaching for the electric.

My handpiece of choice

Since 2005, I have primarily worked with electric A-dec|W&H handpieces using the EA50 LT electric motors and the Synea WA-99LT angle attachment. After experiences with other electric handpieces in the past, I found that I preferred the size, weight and stability of the bur in the A-dec|W&H tools to others.

A 1:5 highspeed attachment, 1:1 slowspeed attachment, and a straight-angle attachment give me additional flexibility with the electric models. I use an electric handpiece at a slow speed for tasks like fine finishing of composites. The straight adapter is useful for tasks such as adjusting dentures, bite splints and night guards.

I opted for this setup because I prefer many of the electric handpiece’s features over the air-driven handpiece’s features. First, the highspeed electric handpiece’s torque is significantly better than air-driven, and being able to instantly adjust the speed allows me a great degree of control.

I can create a crown prep at high speed, then turn the handpiece down to about half speed to finish the margins, without worrying about losing torque. The burs are very precise, with no wobbling, and dentists who work with a microscope will find that margins can be easily finished in a smooth, straight line, as opposed to the bumpy margins that come when working with an air-driven handpiece.

For caries removal, however, I typically use an air-driven slowspeed handpiece, which I find enables a better “feel” for the work than electric, although this could just be an old habit.

One air-driven handpiece and two electric motor handpieces are a good start to an ideal set up.


One important aspect to think about when considering a handpiece purchase is how it will integrate with your office setup. This was a key priority during my office remodel seven years ago, during which we installed A-dec 500 chair systems.

Using these chairs with A-dec handpieces allows the handpieces and other ancillary devices to be integrated into the chair’s delivery system. This puts the equipment and controls right where they are needed, and also reduces clutter.

With an integrated system, there is no need for separate boxes or additional wiring or tubing, and the same display can be used to adjust the handpiece, the chair, air/water spray, and lighting.

A system like this offers greater efficiency and a sleek appearance. The display panel also allows for programming pre-sets for additional efficiency, letting you choose a frequently used speed at the touch of a button, or customize with a few additional clicks.

Want more advice? Check out this video from A-dec!



It’s important to protect any handpiece investment with proper maintenance. Some dentists may think it is more cost effective to pay an assistant to perform lubrication by hand, but in truth, using an automated device can cost less than 2 cents per cycle.

An automated device also prevents the inconsistencies that result from having staff members oil handpieces and, by applying the exact amount of oil needed with every cycle, an automated system will help avoid the wear and tear that come from having too little or too much oil.

My practice uses an Assistina 301 Plus maintenance system, which allows us to place the handpiece inside, close the lid, and return 35 seconds later to a cleaned and lubricated handpiece.

The Assistina has an automatic oil dispensing system that performs lubrication consistently, and it rotates the gears and turbines during its purge cycle to thoroughly remove debris and excess oil. It also uses a special cleaning liquid to flush internal air and water coolant lines.

The system comes with a universal adapter that accepts many handpieces, or additional adapters can be purchased for specific handpieces. With this system, and with a sufficient quantity of highspeed adapters, I find that my handpieces need significantly less professional servicing than my old air-driven handpieces.

Get started

For dentists who are interested in incorporating electric handpieces into their practice, I recommend starting with the EA-52LED electric motor and several 1:5 angled handpiece adapters (Synea WA 99LT). In addition, several straight adapters will come in handy.

These tools will give you a great start on working with electric handpieces, and then if you choose to continue, a 1:1 attachment will bring you extra versatility.

I find electric handpieces are a very easy tool to recommend, and well worth the short learning curve. After experiencing the benefits of their steady torque and smooth finishing, they are definitely handling the lion’s share of work in my practice.

D. Kent Moberly, DMD, is a 1980 graduate of the School of Dental Medicine at Southern Illinois University. He is an affiliate professor at the School of Dentistry at the University of Washington, and a visiting faculty member at the Pankey Institute. He practices at Magnolia Dental Care in Seattle, Wash.

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