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Practice Tips #58: Japanese-Style Handpieces

In previous issues of Practice Tips, we’ve discussed various aspects of handpieces, including dental handpiece maintenance, dental handpiece design, and factors that influence dental handpiece torque.

As we discussed, one of the factors that influences torque is the turbine in your high-speed handpiece. This month, we’re going to look at the “Japanese” style dental high-speed handpieces to see what sets this type of handpiece apart.

The Japanese style dental handpiece design is the most popular high-speed in the world. It was originally designed and manufactured in Japan, hence the name. However, Japanese style handpieces are now manufactured all over the world. This design has been used for decades by a wide range of manufacturers. As it is so widely used, many also refer to these as “generic” or “universal” dental handpieces. Naturally, being widely used means that there are a great number of “brand names” that appear on Japanese style handpieces, as the Japanese style has been very commonly used for “house brand” handpieces as well (such as our own American high-speed series #15-30, 15-31, 15-32 & 15-33). Note that these same brand names appear on handpieces that, also, use other dental turbines (most notably, NSK), so it’s important to know the model and not just the manufacturer.

The Japanese style handpiece offers a good combination of reliability, size (for superior access and vision), torque, and convenience. The “standard” Japanese handpiece has a smaller head than many other handpieces, so it affords good access and visibility.

However, for those who require a particularly small head, these handpieces also come in “mini” (small head) size. The mini head handpiece is often popular with pediatric specialists, although smaller size for easy access can be beneficial to many practitioners (GP & specialist alike).

For those who require more torque, you can also purchase a Japanese style handpiece with a “supergrade” (large) head. The larger bearings and impeller of the “supergrade” will typically yield more power.

As with most handpieces, the Japanese style is also offered with options such as fiber optics and a push-button chuck or even a swivel quick disconnect coupler for added convenience

One of the key ways to differentiate the Japanese style handpiece is the turbine. Japanese style handpieces can be used with a standard “canister” turbine (or just “can” for short). A canister turbine has the same components as any other turbine (see our issue on dental handpiece design), but the entire turbine is then encased in a metal shell, or canister. The canister encloses the bearings, o-rings, washers, and other components, so there is no need to take the care with these components as one would with other turbines.

15-80 standard Japanese canister

A typical canister turbine

As the components are encased, canister-style turbines are EXTREMELY simple, straight-forward, and easily replaced in just a few seconds by any member of staff. None of the o’rings, washers, or other delicate components are loose or exposed so you don’t have to worry about proper handling of them. One cannot twist o’rings, get washers out of place, or run into any of the other common “user errors” during installation of a canister turbine. This means canister turbines can even be replaced chairside in just a few seconds.

Simple turbine changes make the Japanese style handpiece the easiest, quickest, and most economical to service. No need to send it out. No need to spend a great deal of time making sure that you have removed all of the old turbine components and cleaning out handpiece heads. Just push the old canister turbine out and pop the new canister turbine in.

You’ll note in the above photo, the standard canister has flat ends, like a can of soup. There are a wide range of other turbines in shells that are not standard canisters. These turbines will taper at one end or the other, bear o’rings on the exterior, have extra grooves or notches, or possess other distinguishing features.

A pair of non-standard canister turbines

A pair of non-standard canister turbines

In order to keep the turbine properly oriented within the handpiece head, the canister turbine will have a “lock pin” on the top of the canister. Most manufacturers affix a small ball bearing to the top of the canister turbine to serve this purpose. Sometimes there is a raised area manufactured into the canister shell instead. Either way, this projection needs to be lined up with a small notch in the top of the handpiece head. The lock pin keeps the canister turbine stable within the handpiece head, which is important as the canister has two holes cut in it for passage of drive air and exhaust air. The holes in the canister must line up with the drive air and exhaust air holes at the bottom of the handpiece head for it to function. You can see how the lock pin engages in our turbine installation video in Practice Tips or our You Tube channel.

Naturally, the turbine will change for the mini head and supergrade head handpieces which use “mini” (small) and “supergrade” (large) versions of the standard can. These variations on the canister turbine have the same “soup can” shape but are smaller or larger in size.

Canister turbines are also economical as they usually are available at some of the lowest prices of any turbine on the market. Of course, there are many brands at various prices and not all canister turbines are created equal (even though they share the same design and should be interchangeable). Most canister turbines on the market carry a 90 day warranty. American Dental Accessories, Inc. will warranty all canister turbines for 6 full months, twice the industry standard.

When looking for a solid, reliable, easily serviced and economical handpiece, the Japanese style can serve very well in the typical dental office.

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