Dentists use their handpieces every day, they hold these things more than they hold their spouses own hand; so why not have a reliable, capable handpiece that you can always consistently rely on? You don’t want to waste your time being uncomfortable, and you especially don’t want to waste your time trying to get a malfunctioning handpiece to work right. Well, I am the person in charge of making sure the dentists I work for are happy with the handpiece(s) they are using (Learn more about me Here). Frankly, there are manufacturers out there that, unfortunately, just won’t perform as well as others. Now, you may be asking; who the heck does this guy think he is, telling me about handpieces that I know like the back of my hand?! Well, I hold handpieces in my hands just as much as you do! The only difference is I get to hold all different types, sizes, designs, and models; whether it be electric, low speed, or the almighty high speeds. After repairing over 10,000 handpieces, I can confidently say that I have noticed certain trends in certain designs. Now, my hands aren’t the same size as yours, I don’t have an office on a strict budget, and I don’t work on teeth with them; so my opinion is solely based on the fact of what breaks, and what doesn’t break. Don’t forget, these are my personal, educated opinions. You may love the handpieces that you have, while they may be low on my list, and that is totally fine! Lets dig in.
Highspeed Pneumatic Handpieces:
Overview: Star, or DentalEz, offers a high quality, user friendly handpiece that usually doesn’t break the bank. They offer discounts all the time, so wait until you see one you like. The Star 430SWL handpieces are absolutely the most common handpiece that I see. Not necessarily because they break often, but because there is a lot out there! They are relatively easy to get your hands on. They come with a stainless steel (Titanium now as well) shell that is very durable when it comes to dents and dings. They come nice and shiny! The “L” in “SWL” stands for “LubeFree” or “MaintanenceFree”, and it seems that when Dr.’s see that, they go ahead and assume “Think of all the money I can save on lubricants! I don’t have to do anything to these things!”. For the most part that statement is absolutely true, the SWL models do not require any lubricants, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take care of these things. If you do a small amount of maintenance, it goes a long way. Some offices I work for brush the external shell and clean the chuck regularly; these handpiece last much longer than those who just throw them in the sterilizer and off they go. They offer Torque versions, as well as lubricated options. Now I know LubeFree is appealing, and it is their main selling point, but the repairs I do with lubricated bearings last about 25% longer than those with the LubeFree bearings.
Most Common Repair: With these highspeeds, the most common repair I do on them is turbine replacements. The first thing I check when I begin my diagnostic process is the bur retention force; handpieces are required to hold 5lbs of bur retention force in order to pass that part of the test. Star handpieces don’t pass that test very often. Once I take the turbine out of the head, the bearings are usually bad, and there is a good amount of debris/build-up inside. Therefore, I would replace the whole turbine. After the turbine is replaced, I usually have great long lasting repairs after that, (as long as they are treated properly, and not abused excessively). I usually won’t see them for another repair for over a year.
|Star 430SWL (LubeFree)||Star 430SW||Star430K (4-Hole Connection)|
|Head Size (Diameter):||11mm||11mm||11mm|
|Operating Air Pressure:||34-42 psi||30-32 psi||30-32 psi|
- MaintenanceFree and LubeFree models
- Durable Outer Shell
- Relatively Small Head
- Long Lasting Repairs (If treated properly)
- Easy Turbine Replacement to do in Office
- Made in USA
- More expensive repairs than others
- Turbine Replacement is most common repair
- Debris build up on shell, in chuck, and internally
- Some Dr.’s complain about low torque (answered with the new Torque Models, but comes with larger head)
KaVo, or Kavo Kerr, is a german brand who makes a plethora of highspeed handpieces, they really cover all spectrums, and there seems to be something new every year. Wow, now that I am looking at it, I really have seen nearly all their model, these seem to me most common, in order according to my records of repairs: Mira Lux 635B, the BELLAtorque/CONTACTair’s (632, 636, 642,) the MASTERtorque Mini’s (M4500L), or the SMARTtorque models (S609C). That list is just for starters, KaVo offers over nearly 40 different models. They must release new “Models” a lot, but for the most part, the insides of these handpieces are all nearly the same. For example, the 635B and the 642B only have a difference of the back bearing and impeller. They seem to just change something tiny each time they release a new model, and use that as a selling point. These handpieces last a long time! I have repairs from Dr.’s that have been using the same handpiece since they opened their practice 2 decades ago. The outsides of the old ones look pretty beat up, but the internals are still in great shape, making these some of my favorite repairs.
Most Common Repair: It is hard to say exactly because it seems to vary between each model individually. After looking up the averages over the 5,000 KaVo repairs I have done in the past, a good majority is a basic overhaul. This means the handpiece chuck mechanism is long lasting, and the first thing to fail is the bearings. If you take good care of these with maintenance and lubrication, I have had some repairs last over 2 years. I do more “Clean, Lube, and Adjustment” repairs on KaVo’s than I do other brands, as it seems that they get bogged down over time and need a sprucing up; however, after that certain repair, I have had some last over a year without needing any extra repairs! These handpieces love to run, and they will until the very end!
Technical Information: As noted previously, there is tons of different models and if I were to do a breakdown of them all, it would take up way too much space! With that being said, I will list the most common models that I see, which is likely very close to any other model out there. If you would like help referencing models to see what is similar, feel free to reach out anytime.
|Mira Lux 635B||BELLAtorque/CONTACTair||MASTERtorque Mini||SMARTtorque S609C|
|Head Size (Diameter):||12mm||12mm||12.1mm||14.5mm|
|Operating Air Pressure:||40 psi||33 psi||40 psi||40 psi|
|Speed:||385,000 rpm||401,000 rpm||350,000 rpm||353,000 rpm|
- Plethora of Models to fit your specific needs
- Most common repair isn’t a full turbine replacement
- Long Lasting Handpieces
- Some of the repairs are just Adjustments/cleanings needed over time
- Different models are very similar to one another and may be confusing to find exactly what you are looking for
- I have heard several complaints of “Lack of Torque” in some models
- Outer shell gets beat up over time
I am not going to lie, the older Lares handpieces were junk (in my humble opinion). It seems like they broke easily, were a pain to maintain, and had nothing but constant problems. Now I do have to say, the more recent models have really changed my mind. They seemed to resolve some of the past common issues, and have created a much more reliable handpiece that has definitely been a joy to repair. It seemed like when they first came out, they wanted to make the lightest handpiece possible, and they seemed to do that. The 557 handpiece was very light! However, it had constant issues with bearings freezing up, the impeller skipping in the head, noise, and burs slipping out; not to mention, it had some pretty noticeable shell corrosion problems. The recent models are now using a different material on the outside that can withstand much more abuse without showing signs of wear. Lares uses a removable and replaceable chuck system that allows you to replace the chuck without having to replace the whole entire turbine. This is nice when it comes to saving a bit of money, but it seems that the money you save, you give up on the longevity of the chuck. The bearings in the handpieces are warrantied and usually last twice as long as the chuck itself. Overall, I am glad they have turned around and changed some things from their older models and created a much more reliable handpiece.
Most Common Repair: No matter what other issues a Lares handpiece is having, nearly every single time the chuck needs adjusted or replaced. As mentioned previously, their removable chuck seems to be a pretty big limitation on these handpieces, however, one nice thing is they are easily adjustable. The only time I have to replace the chuck is when one of the individual teeth that is on there is broken, or if it can not be adjusted any more than it already is. If the chuck needs replaced, and the bearings are bad, I usually replace the whole turbine with a new turbine that has a fully attached chuck with a 6-month warranty (removable chuck is still an option upon request). For the most part, I see bearing failures every 8-12 months, and chuck problems about 4-6 months.
Technical Information: To note, this technical information chart lists the newest model, in the swivel option unless otherwise specified.
|Lares 557 Ultralite||Lares 757||Lares 557 Turbo + (4 Hole Connection)|
|Weight:||31g||43 g||38 g|
|Head Size (Diameter):||11.9mm||14.5mm||11.99mm|
Operating Air Pressure:
|40 psi||40 psi||40 psi|
|Speed:||395,000 rpm||360,000 rpm||450,000 rpm|
|Power (Torque):||15.3 W||20.8 W||13.1|
- Very Light
- Create good amounts of power/torque
- chuck doesn’t need replaced every single time, easily adjustable
- Fits KaVo type couplers, or direct connect (4-hole) options
- Fixed majority of recurring problems
- Older models had recurring problems
- Removable chuck is problematic
- Outside shell on some models corrodes easily
- Not very quiet
NSK has created high quality handpieces that feature some of the most whisper quiet models I have ever worked on. They have sturdy external shells that withstand corrosion, stains, and dents very well. The handpiece bearings are usually preloaded with washers making them always perfectly balanced and held in place to prevent any movement at the bur. They have models with small heads for more access, and models with larger heads that provide more torque. Some of the older Ti-Max Models I have worked on featured some fairly large bearings that seemed to wobble, and break somewhat frequently. The new models seemed to go back to a little smaller bearing height to prevent some of this. I have very rarely ever seen any corrosion or large amounts of debris in the head, so they also show excellent “Suck Back” prevention. They also offer the glass rod optic rather than a fiber optic; albeit a tad heavier, they will likely never need replaced unless they are cracked or stained, giving you brightness for the life of the handpiece. NSK’s also offer a little trick that I haven’t seen in any other brand. The include a teeny tiny bearing the the inside of the push button back cap, just incase the cap is pressed while the handpiece is operating. Thus, resulting in the inability to get accidently burned by the back cap of the handpiece if it accidently comes in contact with the spinning spindle.
Most Common Repair: After everything I have said above, these handpieces sound great, right? Well, the only downfall of these are the repairs. The repair costs on these tend to be slightly higher than what you would normally see in other handpieces. The OEM turbines usually can not be overhauled and have to be replaced entirely. If the turbine has been replaced before, then you can pull and replace the bearings or impeller. The most common part that I see broken, or worn out is the bearings. The chuck design rarely loosens on the bur, and the impeller doesn’t really ever get corroded, bent, or chipped. The bearings have been better recently since they released models with slightly smaller bearing heights. However, I still see bearings getting worn out, wobbly, or breaking most frequently. The most common repair is a turbine replacement, and the most common problem are worn bearings.
Technical Information: NSK is another company who offers a ton of different models. I am going to dive into the Ti-Max Models below as they are the most common that I see.
|Head Size (Diameter):||N/A||11.7 mm||13.6 mm||N/A||12.1 mm||13.1 mm|
|Operating Air Pressure:||36 psi||40 psi||40 psi||40 psi||40 psi||40 psi|
|Speed:||420,000 rpm||386,000 rpm||375,000 rpm||310,000 rpm||365,000 rpm||330,000 rpm|
|Power (Torque):||18 W||17 W||21 W||23 W||23 W||26 W|
- Very Quiet
- Anti-corrosion outer shell
- Long lasting repairs
- Glass rod instead of fiber optic
- Plenty of models
- Mini bearing in rear cap on some models
- Turbine Replacements are needed for the first repair
- Bearings wear out quicker than normal on some models
Great torque is unfortunately one of the few things about these handpieces that I am a fan of. First off, the way the impeller and air delivery are designed to bring air into the turbine are more efficiently than really any other brand. However, in direct correlation to that, the noise created is a bit more loud than other brands. As mentioned when writing on NSK, I noted the premature wear in the “taller than normal” bearings. Well, W&H happens uses those same bearings on majority of their models. It seems as if they know the bearings are a problem, and have tried washers and o-rings to get them to hold in place longer, which does help. However, every single time I take the back cap off and the turbine out, the bearings are wobbly as heck. They allow so much movement on the chuck that the impeller actually comes in contact with the retainers in the head. They also have a LED light at the top of the handpieces in some models, which is a great idea to provide light, save weight, and offer something else besides what’s already out there. However, the light seems to dull over time, or even quite working. For the most part, LED lights in a sterilizing unit doesn’t sound like a significantly good idea to me… but what do I know?
Most Common Repair: As mentioned before, the dang bearings! They very rarely aren’t replaced when I take these things apart. They often lead into other issues too. The impeller can become damaged and scratched from having too much movement, which would need replaced as well. I see the back end of the handpieces where the back cap screws in get worn out over time too. Usually you can replace the back cap and get it good enough to not worry about it, while other times its a much more intensive repairs. After all repairs considered, the most common (by far) is an overhaul to replaced those bearings, o-rings, and washers.
Technical Information: The most common model is the “Synea” which has several sub-models. I will break them down below:
|Synea Ta-96||Synea Ta-97||Synea Ta-98|
|Head Size (Diameter):||10.5 mm||10 mm||11.5 mm|
|Operating Air Pressure:||40-42 psi||40 psi||40-42 psi|
|Speed:||350,000 rpm||295,000 rpm||350,000 rpm|
|Power (Torque):||17 W||17 W||20 W|
- Great torque
- LED rather than Fiber optic*
- Corrosion free outer shells
- Most common repair is rather inexpensive compared to others
- Bearings allow a lot of play in the spindle
- More noisy than some other brands
- LED rather than Fiber optic*
- Head/Back Cap wear out over time
- Impeller gets scratched or damaged over time
Oh boy, the old trusties! Midwest has been the best selling handpiece for years. It shows… I see a ton of midwest handpieces in for repair; not because they break a lot, but because they are just that common! In recent years I have seen a slight decline of use with their older stuff, which is great. I used to see some Traditions and Quiet-airs that were far older than I was! It looks like offices are upgrading to their Tradition+, or Stylus models more often than anything. Even the new designs kept a lot of the same characteristics of their older models; if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it… right? They don’t offer a ton of different models like other brands new. Rather, they stick to the basics and what works. They offer at least 1 thing for everyone, not 10 things for someone. I haven’t really seen anything from these that have stood out horribly. Obviously, the handpieces I repaired that are 30 years old show some wear-and-tear, as expected.
Most Common Repair: It is really hard to say, and looking at my data, it is also really close. A little more than majority of the repairs are overhauls, but very closely followed by turbine replacements; they’re neck and neck honestly. I do see a lot of bearing damage in these, but usually they hold on until the very end when the bearing cage explodes. Most of the turbine replacements are because of a combination of damaged bearings, damaged impeller, and corroded chuck.
Technical Information: There a several options with each of these models when it comes to connection type, back end style, etc. I included the older models, so the new models will likely be lighter, with more torque.
|Midwest Tradition||Midwest Quiet-Air||Midwest Stylus||Midwest Tradition+|
|Head Size (Diameter):||10.6 mm||N/A||12.7 mm||12.7-14.2 mm|
|Operating Air Pressure:||40 psi||40 psi||40 psi||40 psi|
|Speed:||420,000 rpm||406,000 rpm||295,000 rpm||330,000 rpm|
|Power (Torque):||13.1 W||≥10 W||≥ 11 W||18-20 W|
- Very long lasting
- Will keep running until they literally can’t anymore
- Durable outer shell
- Inexpensive repair costs on some models
- Infrequently repaired
- Outer shell gets dirty over time
- Some models will need internals brazed/soldered over time (~10 Years)
- Not the most visually appealing
- NSK- The durable, corrosion free shell, and the high quality components really stand out to me. I love how quiet they operate, while still creating large amounts of power, and creating plenty of speed. If something goes wrong and your back cap gets stuck compressed, you don’t have to risk burning a patient. Sure, they are a little more pricey when it comes to repairs, but I have always been a proponent of “You get what you pay for” which you definitely do with NSK handpieces.
- Midwest- The only reason that I don’t have midwest on the top charts is because some of them I see are 40 years old and really beaten up… I just can’t get that image out of my head. That just goes to show how long lasting these handpieces are. They created something that worked excellent decades ago, and they are sticking to it today. Their new models feature key upgrades that will keep you happy as ever.
- KaVo- KaVo rounds out the podium at the number 3 spot closely following my 2 leaders. The fact that they have so many different models is definitely good and bad; Good because they have everything you are looking for, but bad because it can be overwhelming. After seeing nearly all of the models, I can really help answer some questions that you have, so feel free to contact me any time. All of their handpieces are brilliantly engineered, and hard working products. They don’t corrode or get overly debris filled or dirty. They can be a little bulky, but search through what they have to offer. You will find something to fall in love with.
- Star- Looking for the least amount of maintenance while still working with a high quality handpiece? Well Star handpieces created just that. They may get repaired more frequently then some other models; if you are willing to sacrifice a little bit more in repair funds to save money on the maintenance side of things, then no-harm-no-foul. They are excellent working handpieces, are fairly inexpensive, and you don’t have to worry about lubing them after every use.
- W&H- It just comes down to the annoying noise, and wobbly bearings for me. The quality of the shell and components is really top of the line, but it is just followed by lackluster performance attributes. If you are looking for tons of torque and don’t really mind having a wobbly bur or a little louder operation, this handpiece would work for you. The definitely exceed all others when it comes to torque. However that’s about the only pro that I can stand behind.
- Lares- Last, but not least is Lares. They really have gotten better over the years, and are about ready to pass W&H if they don’t change something. With that being said, it just isn’t exceeding my expectations at this point. They are extremely lightweight, but that is because the use of plastic internally. They corrode, get damaged easily, and have a removable chuck that needs to get a serious makeover. Maybe if they were to improve their turbine design and shell material, they just maybe move up a spot. Until then, here they sit, finishing up this blog post.
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