• 1957: S.S. White Company introduced the Borden Airotor, the first successful air-driven handpiece. This instrument is regarded as the precursor to the present generation of high-speed handpieces [3].
  • 1992: ADA/FDA issued guidelines mandating routine handpiece autoclave sterilization after every instance of use on a patient. This dramatically changed the durability of handpieces and therefore the costs of maintenance [3].
  • The typical expected longevity of air-driven high-speed handpieces is   500 cycles of sterilization [3].
  • One year: In a typical office workflow a handpiece will undergo about two cycles of sterilization each day; thus 500 cycles of sterilization take about a year [3].
  • Seventy-six percent of dentists use air turbine handpieces; 16 percent of dentists use electric and 8 percent use both [2].
  • The typical noise level of a high-speed air-driven handpiece is 70 – 80 dB; the typical noise level of an electric handpiece is 55-60 dB. Every 10 decibel level of noise reduction is perceived by humans as a 50 percent reduction in noise [1][4].
  • The typical speed of the bur on the air-driven handpiece is 300-400k rpm; 10-18 watts is the typical cutting power of air-driven handpieces; 200k rpm is the typical speed of the bur on an electric handpiece; 50 – 60 watts is the typical cutting power of an electric handpiece.
  • The typical recommended air pressure for air-driven handpieces is 35 psi; more pressure does not mean better cutting or better torque, it just spoils the turbines.
  • The turbine is the heart and soul of the air-driven handpiece. This is the component that most often fails.

Three steps: Lube; clean; dry. Wipe the surface of the handpiece and then use an automatic lubrication station to lube and flush the handpiece, then autoclave the handpiece by placing it in a paper/plastic combination bag, paper side up. Allow for the sterilizer to completely process through the dry cycle. These steps will ensure the best and most consistent performance from your handpiece.

[1] The air turbine and hearing loss: are dentists at risk?

[2] Clinician's report May 2013

[3] Leonard, Daniel L., and David G. Charlton. "Performance of high-speed dental handpieces subjected to simulated clinical use and sterilization." The Journal of the American Dental Association 130.9 1999: 1301 – 1311.

[4] Kadanakuppe S, Bhat PK, Jyothi C, Ramegowda C. Assessment of noise levels of the equipments used in the dental teaching institution, Bangalore.Indian J Dent Res 2011;22:424- 431

Vivek Mehta DMD, FAGD, Visiting Faculty, Spear Education. Follow him on Twitter @Mehta_DMD.