Electric handpieces changed the dental game forever. They have torque that can never be matched, head sizes much smaller than their counterparts, and the entire handpiece itself is much smaller in general. However, there are definitely some negatives to them as well: They are more pricey than you would normally pay, heavier than what you may be used to, and more expensive to repair as there a tons of moving parts that go into the operation of these handpieces (just look at the first picture). Now with that many moving parts, it makes sense why these things weight a little bit more. It is also understandable how the handpieces themselves may cost more. Now, if you are willing to pay the price (literally) to get these throughout your office, you are likely to be very happy. The higher repair cost is offset by the lower repair frequency, and the handpieces themselves will last forever, if properly maintained.
From my perspective, they are a blast to repair, and I thoroughly enjoy it as part of my job. I have repaired over 5,000, so I know all of the in’s-and-out’s, all of the special tips and tricks, and most importantly; I know which are likely to break sooner than others. Now I will never use these like you do, our jobs are completely different. I am just here to make them work better than ever for you. With that being said, these are my opinions; you may absolutely love the handpiece you have, and I am not going to argue with you. I am simply here to tell you what breaks, why, and what to keep an eye out for. I am not paid by any of these companies to push their products. I am paid by dentists, and what better way to help out by giving you a deep dive review of the electric handpieces that you know and love?
NSK has created, basically, the staple of the electric 1:5 handpiece. All of the aftermarket handpieces around nowadays are almost an exact replica of the NSK Ti-Max 95L‘s. I mean, even Star’s electric handpieces are identical to the NSK’s. To me, this is a good thing; if you created something that people are copying, you must have created it right. Recently, they have updated their popular Ti-Max model to give it a little smaller head, make it a little lighter, while providing the same amount of torque. Even their older models are still top quality handpieces that you can rely on. If worse comes to worse, you can replace everything internally in the handpiece for my Level 3 Overhaul price, and you basically have a brand new handpiece; much cheaper than what it would be to buy a brand new one. Just like in their pneumatic models, the back cap comes with a small bearing attached, to avoid the consequences of a back cap and spindle touching (lots of scalding heat). Now lately, they haven’t changed a whole lot when it comes to design until very recently. If it isn’t broken, there’s no need to fix it, right? Their newest model, the NSK Ti-Max Z95L has a bit of a change, as mentioned above, but it is still fairly reliable.
Most Common Repair:
These handpieces feature the classic 4mm X 7mm X 2mm head bearings, which is used by W&H, KaVo, and Bien Air (all with a slight variant involved). Their intermediate drive shaft bearing is the same size bearing that fits on a Midwest shorty drive plate as well (fun fact). It seems like they took what worked, and used that in their design. The head bearings are some of the most reliable out there, but every year or two, the bearing cage will eventually wear down and break; for no other reason than just being used. I do notice that their intermediate drive shaft bearings break a little more often than some other brands, but it is really nothing crazy. Maybe over the time of 10 years, they will break an extra 2 times. The chuck is also solid, and rarely needs replaced. Actually, more often than not the chuck gets replaced because the head bearings lose a ball and the Dr. continues to use it, which inevitably grinds the gears away to nothing. The most common complaint and corresponding repair I get is a complaint pertaining to heat. As the bearings wear down and get a little lose, the intermediate drive shaft headgear causes extra friction on the geared spindle; more friction = more heat. The repair for that is just a normal Level 1 Overhaul, and lasts for about 18 months until I see them in again.
- Reliable, long lasting design
- Multiple water ports (In most models)
- Anti-corrosion, very durable outer shell
- Mini bearing in cap to prevent overheating
- Long lasting repairs
- When they do break, the repairs are usually relatively inexpensive
- Intermediate drive shaft needs overhauled slightly more than usual
- Sometimes, they operate so well, the Dr. doesn’t even know it is broken until damage is irreversible
- Glass Rod breaks Internally if dropped
The Synea model handpieces are great, well made handpieces. They are a little bit lighter than other manufacturers and offer fairly small heads without having to give up torque or speed. The weight balance on W&H handpieces seems to be closer to where your fingers grip the handpiece, rather than the bottom where it attached to the motor. The bearings used in the head aren’t as big as the popular bearings used in most other companies electric handpieces, but that is expected with a smaller head. All models offer a 3 port water spray that is built directly into the head, rather then into the head cartridge assembly like NSK’s and some KaVo models. The external material holds up well, and doesn’t fade or stain severely. You will notice after some use that the small holes that are built into the shell for grip will build up debris over time. However, I’ve never had an issue getting them to look brand new after the repair process.
As mentioned earlier, the head of these handpiece is smaller, which requires smaller bearings. These bearings work great, don’t heat up easily, and don’t break very often. Actually, they rarely ever break, they just wear out and become wobbly. With the design of the bearings, they are more likely to wobble slightly sooner than some other, larger bearings. When the bearings wobble, so does the bur, which is my top complaint with these. Either the bur vibrates at high speeds, the bur moves when you apply pressure to something, or they begin to heat up. All three of these things can be attributed to the wobbly bearings, as they begin to wear down. Overall, it is a simple fix, a Level 1 Overhaul. One thing i’ve noticed internally about these handpieces is they easily build up debris, stains, and corrosion if they are not deliberately lubed or cleaned. Most offices have a great lubrication schedule and they will look brand new once they are sent in for repair. But in some instances, they are pretty gross inside, which undoubtedly will cause premature handpiece issue.
- Lightweight and great balance in your hand
- Multiple Water Sprays
- Strong Exterior
- Slightly Smaller Head
- Usually, inexpensive Level 1 Repairs
- Wobbly Burs as they begin to wear down
- Can easily build up internal corrosion/debris
- Can easily heat up as bearings wear down
Unlike KaVo’s air driven handpieces, their electrical handpieces do not have nearly as much model options. KaVo has about two main models, with several submodels, so you can get specifically what you are needing/searching for. Throughout all of the models and submodels, one thing remains the same: the head assembly. They contain the same bearing and chuck mechanism designs (in some models the bearing sizes and chuck sizes are different) but the installation and designs are the same. Unlike all other electric models, the KaVo front bearings are not pushed to a specific retained spot, so the inner race doesn’t rest on anything as the geared spindles have their teeth closer to the rear bearing, rather than the front bearing. The rear bearings, in most models, are the same as the 4mm X 7mm X 2mm as mentioned above with NSK handpieces. However, the front bearings feature an oversized inner race to provide more friction, as this is the only thing that holds that bearing into place.
Another thing that separates the KaVo electric handpieces from other major brands is they feature a transmission housing between their lower dog drive and the intermediate drive shaft. From a technical standpoint, this transmission housing takes the strain of constant torque off of the dog drive gear and the bottom intermediate drive shaft gear; however, they seem to be solving a nearly non existent problem. In all of my past repairs, I have rarely ever seen a broken or severely worn down dog drive gear and drive shaft gear. In fact, I have repaired more transmission housing assemblies then I have lower gears. With that being said, Technically it was a smart idea; practically speaking, it caused an extra problem where one didn’t previously exist.
Most Common Repair:
KaVo repairs do a great job when it comes to longevity. They are consistently some of my longer lasting repairs, which usually last about 18 months. The head bearings, even though just held on by friction, last a long time; which is usually a recurring problem in other models. However, the inherited design of the friction gripping bearings causes them to be a little more expensive. However, what you lose in price, you gain (and then some) when it comes to longevity. My most common repair is still head bearings, but you get a bit more life out of them than most other models. The second most common repair is a full bearing replacement, as the intermediate drive shaft bearings do fail every so often. Usually every second repair it will require a full bearing overhaul.
- Durable Shell Usually Doesn’t Dent/Stain
- Long Lasting Repairs
- Don’t tend to Heat up, or wobble the burs
- Heavier than others
- More parts in the handpiece than other manufacturers, could potentially require extra repair/replacement of parts
Featuring the brilliance of Swiss engineering! Bien Air Electric handpieces are top notch, and designed flawlessly. They are consistently my longest lasting repairs, and rarely have little maintenance problems (like leaky water). They used to be pretty heavy and bulky, but their newest models are some of the shortest and lightest handpieces I have worked with. They only feature one main model, (two now with the Evo Models), and closely related submodels to slightly pertain to certain customers needs. Their older models all feature the same bearings. They have just recently changed their newer models to have smaller head bearings, which you obviously need when you have smaller head. Their older head bearings are the same that the popular NSK’s use, and feature a slightly larger intermediate drive shaft bearing, which is completely sealed and long lasting. Their new models have gotten proportionally smaller bearings as they have slightly smaller heads. Usually smaller bearings have more problems, but not here. Everything in the head is held together simply, yet firmly. You have very little bur wobbles, precise cutting, low heat creation, and bearings that last a long time.
Most Common Repair:
Although repairs are a little more rare to come by, I still get them. The most common problem is just a simple head bearing overhaul. About every 3rd repair you will need a complete bearing overhaul, but you are looking at every 3-4 years for that. The pricing remains the same as all other major brands (except KaVo), so you are not paying anything extra on repairs. I really have no complaints about the design or repairs of these handpieces. Every one I have seen is in great shape internally, and has rarely had any extra problems other than just standard repairs.
- Excellent Design
- Long Lasting Repairs
- Lightweight and Short Body
- Burs Don’t Wobble when Bearings Wear Down
- Doesn’t create much Heat
- Glass Rod Breaks when Dropped after the handpiece gets older
- Plastic Covers on Neck of Handpiece Easily Fall Out
- Bien Air- The excellent design, lack of repairs (good for you/bad for me), and weight/style make this my favorite handpiece to work on. I have heard nothing but excellent reviews from all of the dentists I work with that use these handpieces every day. There are really no complaints about them. They are light, built exceptionally well, and fit comfortably in your hand. The repairs I do get are usually level 1 type repairs, and last for years after the repair.
- NSK- The durable outer shell, and the flawless design of this handpiece set it slightly higher than the W&H handpiece in this close battle. When every aftermarket handpiece made is based off of your design, I can safely say that you designed an efficient and well operating piece of machinery. This is exactly what NSK has done. They set the standard of electric handpieces, and I don’t ever see a better design being developed.
- W&H- As mentioned before, this was a hard to put into 3rd place. W&H really has a lightweight, well designed handpiece. The only complaint that I have is the small head bearings failing prematurely. However, this is what you expect when you want something with a smaller head. For being so light, their outer shells really stand up well to being dropped and scratched. Overall, this is a fantastic handpiece, and it is a shame that it says 3rd; If I had it my way, I think they top 3 would all be a tie.
- KaVo- KaVo really does make a great electric handpiece, but I believe what they tried to do to set them apart, ended up being too much. By adding separate transmission housing, and turning the typical chuck design backwards, they ended up causing more problems for themselves than solving them. It is slightly heavier than other models, the repairs are slightly more expensive, and they simply just have more failures.
I really hope you enjoyed reading this. I love my job, and I love taking handpieces apart to see what is going on inside; there is something new everyday and I am always learning. If you ever have any questions, concerns, or comments, I would thoroughly enjoy talking to you about them. Feel free to contact me any time. If you are looking for an experienced repair technician with plenty of experience, a quick turnaround, and high quality repairs; it would be an honor to work with you. You can create a repair order and track the repair progress and warranties on past repairs
Looking for any other handpiece reviews? Check out my recent post that reviews the top highspeeds.