Air-Driven vs Electric Dental HandpieceAlthough there are hundreds of different decisions to make when it comes to choosing the right handpiece for your practice, choosing between electric handpieces vs air-driven handpieces can be one of the easiest. Their differences are polarizing, and both come with unique pros and cons. I am writing this to help bring light to their unique advantages and disadvantages, and help you with understanding just what makes them different.

Now, what the heck do I know about handpieces? Well, I have been working on dental handpieces, both electric handpieces vs air-driven handpieces, for over 7 years! I have seen tens of thousands of different handpieces, from thousands of doctors around the country. I get to see what repetitive problems certain handpieces have, as well as getting to see their insides and outs. With this experience, I am able to understand what each handpiece is specifically good for. I can tell the distinct differences between using an air-driven dental handpiece vs an electric. I can see the advantages and disadvantages of each, and I can understand just what makes them better or worse than one another.

What Are the Main Differences Between Air-Driven And Electric Dental Handpieces?

Electric Handpiece vs Air Driven Handpiece
Now, one of the basic and easiest things to understand about the electric handpiece vs air-driven handpieces is their differences. As I mentioned earlier, the differences are polarizing, and you can see them just by looking at the design of the handpiece. Air-driven handpieces are (obviously) powered by air, which is produced by your air compressor system which is already in your office. That air is used to spin a turbine impeller at around 400,000 rpm’s and produces enough torque to allow you to cut hard objects with relative ease. One other difference is the electric vs air-driven dental handpiece speed, which was just stated.

Now, take a look at Electric dental handpieces. Electric handpieces are not powered by air at all (some models use an air switch, but still run off power). Electric handpieces are powered by (you guessed it) electricity! Your electric motor system uses an electric current to spin something called an armature, which is located in your motor. This motor spins at a maximum of 20,000 rpm’s (Just like most low-speed air motors). You then attach a 1:5 attachment on top of that motor to increase the speed ratio, which in turn, ends up spinning your bur at 100,000 rpm’s. This is 4x’s slower than the average air-driven handpiece; however, what they lack in torque, they make up for in torque. These electric handpieces have an astronomical amount of torque. More than you can really use without causing damage.Electric vs Air Driven Dental Handpiece

The Advantages of Air-Driven Handpieces:

  • As mentioned earlier, Air-driven handpieces use an air system that already exists in your practice. You need the air system for things like your air-water syringe, and you can easily tap into that and connect it to a handpiece delivery systems, which in turn, will allow you to connect your needed handpiece(s).
  • Air-driven handpieces have one integral part that is needed for their operation, that being the turbine. This allows air-driven handpieces to be lightweight and comfortable to hold.
  • With the operation of the turbine, manufacturers can easily change head sizes/angles to allow you to achieve more torque with a bigger head, easy access to tight locations with a small head, or a 45-degree angle that allows you to reach those hard-to-reach places in surgery.
  • High-speed handpieces are easier to make, which allows them to be more cost-effective.

What Are The Limitations of Air-Driven Handpieces?

  • Air-driven handpieces break down more frequently than electric handpieces. Air-driven handpieces spin at a crazy amount of speed (400,000 rpm’s). When you spin anything this fast, you inherently run into issues.
  • Air-driven handpieces can never create as much torque as electric handpieces. You can achieve higher amounts of torque with larger heads, but then you are battling with a larger head making it harder to maneuver and access small areas.

The Advantages of Electric Handpieces:

Using Air Driven Dental Handpiece vs Electric

  • Electric handpieces can generate more torque than you can even use. All while keeping their RPM at the desired range. Many new electric handpiece systems will keep the same RPM when you apply more pressure to the bur to ensure you never slow down or freeze the bur.
  • Electric handpieces can usually have smaller head diameters as they do not have an impeller, just a geared spindle.
  • Although there are a lot more moving parts in these handpieces, the overall length is shorter.
  • Due to the lower amount of RPM’s that these handpieces spin at, they often break less frequently.

What Are The Limitations of Electric Handpieces?

  • Because of the inherited design, and the amount of moving parts required to get these handpieces to operate correctly, they are usually more expensive to purchase.
  • Although repairs are often less frequent, the Electric Handpiece Repair costs are higher than air-driven handpieces. There are a lot more parts that require repair when one breaks, and the amount of labor increases as the work requires more time. You can see prices for Electric Handpiece Overhauls.
  • The attachments require entire motor systems that need to be installed in your office.
  • Even though their length is shorter, they are heavier; this is due to all of the internal parts that are required to increase the speed at a 1:5 ratio.