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Dental Handpieces: A Comprehensive Guide on Torque and Speed

In the last few years, dental handpiece manufacturers have been improving their products. Geared towards lighter and sleeker instruments, the effort is to increase their ability to withstand the autoclaving process and the use of surface-based disinfectants. There are a few details outside of the general maintenance of your handpieces to consider.

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Older models often included rough surfaces; however, research has shown that these types of surfaces are known to trap high levels of biological debris. Additionally, older dental handpiece models were much heavier.

Throughout time, it was found that these models placed a physical strain on the practitioner and resulted in higher levels of patient discomfort. When shopping for dental handpieces today, it is simple to acquire those with advanced designs that are lighter; however, practitioners must place focus on two key areas – torque and speed.


Torque is the overall efficiency of the dental handpiece. For example, in handpieces that are air-driven, it is best to opt for one that has a large head. These models have larger turbines.

If the handpiece has a large turbine, it will be able to deliver more torque. In simple terms, the “torque” directly relates to the overall cutting power of the instrument. In most instances of air-driven dental handpieces, there is anywhere from 12w and 18w of power for cutting.

If a dental handpiece includes a mini-head, they will have about 14w of power for cutting. Average practices may benefit from a handpiece with a standard head, but more clearance for working will be required and the field of vision may be more obscured.

When shopping for dental handpieces, you will need to weigh the pros and cons of the torque in order to obtain the instrument that is best-suited for your needs.


In dental handpieces, speed is the revolutions that occur per minute, or the “rpm”. (Torque is identified in watts or “w”; whereas speed is referred to as “rpm”)

In using examples of the air driven dental handpieces, you will find that most have operational speeds as low as 250,000 rpm and as high as 420,000. Electric handpieces typically have speeds of about 200,000 rpm.

The difference between air-driven instruments and electric dental handpieces is that when cutting officially starts, air-driven instruments typically lose about 40% of their overall speed. If your practice specializes in the removal of crowns that are difficult or performs a lot of restorations, it is best to opt for electric dental handpieces as they include the speed that you need to succeed in your professional endeavors.

Consideration when purchasing dental handpieces include weight, overall design scheme, contour, whether or not fiber opting lighting is included, and working space required. In addition to this, special consideration must also be given to the torque and the overall speed of the device.

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