What do women look for in a handpiece?

You may or may not remember the huge marketing fail in 2012 that was the Bic For Her fiasco.

You may or may not remember the huge marketing fail in 2012 that was the Bic For Her fiasco.

While marketing pens that appeal specifically to women (as well as other coed consumables, such as razors, notebooks, wallets and pretty much everything else that we buy) is not a new idea, the message is implicit. There are lots of razors that are for women’s use (they’re usually pink or purple), while others are implicitly for men (those are usually some shade of blue or gray).

But instead of implying that these more delicate, prettier pens were for women, Bic tacked on “For Her” to the front of the box, which lead to a sarcastic and scathing Jezebel article that started a domino effect of both men and women speaking out about the absurdity of marketing a pen to women. Even Ellen DeGeneres made fun of the marketing scheme on her show. (“Can you believe this? We’ve been using man pens all these years!”)

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So when we asked female dentists what goes in to picking out a handpiece and if they thought there were different marketing tactics for men and women, I was happy, but not completely surprised, that one dentist, Christine Scott, likened the question to the infamous lady pens that are still for sale today when she responded, “I don’t see that there’s a bias in the way products are marketed to men verses women. Remember a few years ago when Bic regrettably marketed a 'Pen for Her?' It’s not a gender preference; it’s individual.”

Considerations for choosing a handpiece
There was one instance in which a difference between men and women could be relevant to choosing a pen, according to DPR Ergonomics Editor Bethany Valachi.

“The diameter must fit the dentist’s hand," she says. "A petite female dentist will not be comfortable using the same handpiece that comfortably fits the hand of a large male dentist.”

At the same time, one could say, “a petite dentist will not be comfortable using the same handpiece that comfortably fits in the hand of a large dentist,” and Dr. Valachi’s sentiments remain the same. It’s our fault for presenting the question as if one’s sex influenced the ergonomics of a handpiece. This was the only reply we got that hinted that it might.

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“Historically, men and women used the same handpieces [in dental school],” says Sheri Doniger, DDS, president of the American Association of Women Dentists.

She went on to say that women were concerned with practice longevity and ergonomics, but one could say that men, who also would like to work comfortably for as long as they want and make money for as long as possible, would also be concerned with ergonomics and longevity. Hand size, an immensely important consideration when selecting a handpiece, may not directly relate to one’s sex, as most dentists realize.

“To feel like I have full control, I personally do not like large, heavy handpieces. This may or may not be an issue for men,” says Staten Island Dentist Dorothy Lee, DMD.

Indeed, one’s preference for a handpiece is highly individual, as we heard from several dentists.

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“Selecting a handpiece is really a personal choice, like choosing a tennis racket or a golf club,” says Georgia Dentist Christine Scott, DDS. “The most important considerations are fit, feel, and maintenance or brand reputation.”

Indeed, these considerations were echoed by nearly every single dentist we asked, whether she had been practicing for more than 20 years or only a few months.

“Personally, I like titanium handpieces. They are lightweight, quiet and fit a smaller hand.” –Sheri B. Doniger, DDS

“The basic quality I look for in a handpiece is weight. High speed handpieces are typically much lighter than older, slow speed handpieces. Lightweight tubing is important as older tubing can create strain on the wrist and hand.” –Bethany Valachi, DDS

“I like my handpiece to be light and have adequate torque so that it does most of the work.” –Dorothy Lee, DMD

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“Personally, I like my handpieces to be a little bottom-heavy. You also want it to fit in your hand well. It’s not gender preference; it’s individual.” –Christine Scott, DDS

"In dental school, our class was required to buy a kit every year. Ours included a set of preselected handpieces, including a high speed handpiece. I always liked the model; it felt very sleek and lightweight.” –Lauren Wallace, DMD

“Lighter weight, less torque on the wrist from back-heavy handpieces, lower noise and smaller head size are important.” –Sheri B. Doniger, DDS

“A swivel-cord attachment is imperative so the operator won’t have to continually contort and twist the hand and wrist to angulate the piece. Cordless handpieces are a great idea, but weight should be carefully assessed in relation to the benefits of the cordless feature. Be careful of articles that tout the ‘vibration’ aspect of the handpiece as a risk factor. No study has absolutely confirmed this in dentistry.” –Bethany Valachi, DDS

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“It should feel comfortable in your hand, allowing you to focus on prepping rather than how you’re holding the drill. It should never make your hand cramp. It should be so easy to hold and use that it feels as if you’re using a paintbrush. The bur should do the work, and you shouldn’t have to use any extra force.” –Dorothy Lee, DMD

“You also want it to fit in your hand well. My advice for a new dentist finding the right handpiece would be to go to a dental convention and try them out. Look for fit and feel and ease of care, and consider how long it will last.” –Christine Scott, DDS

“Dentists should always try before they buy by either visiting a trade show or asking their dental rep to sample different handpieces. As with dental stools, one size does not fit all. Dentists should never be afraid to ask to try out a handpiece. They are investments both in price and in longevity. If we are not using instruments that comfortably fit our hands, we will be shortening our careers due to iatrogenic repetitive stress issues on our wrists, forearms and shoulders.” –Sheri B. Doniger, DDS

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“I look for something that is as quiet as possible. Most dental-phobic patients find the sound of the drill to be most traumatizing (after the injection).” –Dorothy Lee, DMD

Company reputation and customer service
“The most important considerations are fit, feel and maintenance or brand reputation. I don’t mind paying more for a handpiece if the brand has a good reputation. That way, I know the product will last with proper maintenance. That being said, the proper maintenance should be easy to do.” –Christine Scott, DDS

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“I’m a new dentist so I haven’t picked out my own handpiece yet, but when I start to look, I think I will pay attention to weight, ease of maintenance and cleaning and the company’s reputation for customer service.” –Lauren Wallace, DMD

Indeed, weight, fit and feel, ease of care, and a company’s reputation and customer service are all the first things that come to mind for many dentists when selecting a handpiece whether male or female. It looks like there’s no need to market a smaller, pink handpiece.

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