Electric Vs Air

Posted on: May 19, 2015

Comparison of Electric and Air Driven Handpieces

Dental Handpieces - Electric v. Air

Many of the pros and cons of both air driven and electric handpieces are well known, or at least well known among dentists who've used both types for any significant time, or for those who've read on the subject.  For those not familiar with the differences, we thought we'd provide a little information to aid you in your future consideration of one or the other.

Electric Handpieces Pros & Cons


Electric handpieces typically have a large range of speed control, allowing them to be used for both high and low speed procedures by simply changing out a few attachments.  They are also known for having very constant torque, providing for steady cutting, and precision, even under heavy load.  The lack of an air turbine also allows them to be extremely quiet.


Most electric handpieces are heavier, and can cause fatigue during longer procedures, or after a long day of long procedures.  However, some dentists argue that this claim has more to do with improper technique, whereby simply holding the handpiece differently mitigates the slightly increased weight.  They are also prone to overheating, which has been known to actually burn patients.  This overheating is typically not an issue with air driven handpieces because the conditions that might cause it, increased friction due to poor maintenance, or dull burs, tend to notably diminish performance, signaling a problem.  By design, an electric handpiece simply raises power output to overcome the additional load, causing the head to overheat.  Less maintenance is often cited as an advantage of electric handpieces, but in light of the potential for burning patients, this claim seems dubious.

Air Handpieces Pros & Cons


As a counter point to the high torque associated with electric handpieces, some dentists prefer the lower torque feel of air handpieces.  The lower torque is less prone to accidentally damaging the tooth with excessive force.  They are also easier and cheaper to repair.



They're loud!  The high frequency drone of an air driven handpiece has been linked to hearing loss, general annoyance, and a Pavlovian fear response, deterring many patients from keeping their regular prophylactic visits.  As they wear out they are more prone to bur chatter, whereas by design, the electric handpieces are not.  And although lower torque can in some instances be thought of as an advantage, it is generally considered a disadvantage, with most dentists preferring the precision and accuracy associated with the higher torque electric motor.

There are of course, numerous other differences and considerations, but those are some of the more salient and  widely recognized ones.  Another oddity of usage has been that, on average, American dentists tend to prefer air driven handpieces, whereas in Europe the electric handpieces are exceedingly more popular.  There are clearly some distinct differences between the two types of handpieces, and personal preference aside, it may be that both electric, and air driven models have their place, where one has a weakness, the other often has an advantage.