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Practice Tips #71: Motors, Attachments, & Handpieces; Oh My! - Part 1

Episode 1 - Motors

There are a significant number of handpiece brands on the market and various terms are thrown out to refer to the different slow-speed handpieces and components available. Names like “attachment” or “contra angle” or “handpiece” can all be used to refer to the same thing. No wonder so many practitioners are often confused.

Most slow-speed handpiece systems consist of a separate motor and various attachments. The motor provides the force to drive whatever type of rotary instrument will be used for a given procedure. The motor will not directly accept any type of rotary instrument (e.g. burs). Most motors operate at a given maximum rpm -- 20k and 5k being the most common speeds available.

Motors come in three primary “types”:

E-TYPE This is the most common type of slow-speed motor and is the closest to a “universal” type on the market. Most house brand slow speeds use an E-type motor. NSK is one of the best known name brands to use an E-type motor. Most electric motors are also E-type motors and will accept any E-type attachments. E-type motors primarily rely on friction to hold any attachments on using o-rings and a “split ring”. Some E-type motors (long shaft- #15-105 & #15-113) also incorporate an attachment lock to further secure the attachment.


Some common brand names associated with E-type motors and attachments are: NSK, Lynx, Micro Mega, Medidenta, American and Champion, although there are many others.

STAR TITAN or "T" TYPE Star Dental has a proprietary system they use for their motors and attachments. As it is a proprietary system it will only work with components designed to work within it (ie: You cannot use components designed for a Star Titan with an E-type or Midwest Shorty (see below) component or vice versa). The Star systems use a short shaft on the motor with a groove and attachments with a spring-loaded collar covering ball bearings that seat into the groove on the motor shaft.


MIDWEST SHORTY & RHINO Midwest motors use their own proprietary attachment system. The end of the motor is recessed allowing the attachment to seat into the motor housing. The motor also incorporates a locking lever that clips onto a lip at the end of the attachment to hold it on the motor. As with the Star type, Midwest compatible components will only work with other components specifically designed for this system.


All of these motors are available in different speeds or speed combinations (some Midwest motors are available in a 2 speed configuration and the user can select the speed of the motor before operating it). The speed of the motor will dictate the speed of the rotary instrument but can be affected by the attachment (q.v.).

The first step in procuring a slow-speed system or component should always be determining what type of motor you have so that you can get components that will be compatible with it.

An attachment is the next component in the series and will attach directly to the motor. Attachments come in two primary types: nosecones and contra angles. We’ll discuss attachments in next month’s episode.