News > Barden introduces X-Life range of super precision ball bearings for high speed dental handpieces

Barden introduces X-Life range of super precision ball bearings for high speed dental handpieces


By investing in the latest production machinery and through continuous design improvements, The Barden Corporation's premium quality X-Life range of super precision ball bearings for high speed dental handpieces offer higher reliability, longer operating life and reduced noise levels compared to conventional dental bearings.

In terms of bearing selection, it doesn't get much more challenging than choosing a bearing for a high speed dental handpiece. As well as having to withstand the harsh operating environment in which the bearings are constantly bombarded with debris, the latest dental handpiece turbines typically have to operate at extremely high speeds of between 400,000 and 500,000 rpm. The bearings also have to undergo repeated chemical or steam sterilisation cycles, which can strip away the bearing lubricant.

If that's not enough, the bearings must also remain cool enough to avoid injury or discomfort to the patient and the dental surgeon, whilst also offering the lowest possible noise and vibration levels in order to reduce patient anxiety and allow for a more relaxed, comfortable operating environment.

Wear on a dental handpiece is often limited to the bearing itself, which is typically located at the tip of the handpiece turbine. High speed operation, repeated sterilisation and the effects of operating debris can cause the bearing to fail prematurely. However, due to a unique combination of features designed to retain lubricant and reduce contamination, The Barden Corporation's X-Life range of dental bearings offer a number of technical advantages over conventional bearings.

Barden's X-Life branded products are premium quality bearings produced using state-of-the-art manufacturing technologies that enable a more uniform surface over the whole contact surface between the rolling elements and raceway. This means reduced friction and lower bearing temperatures, less strain is placed on the lubricant, higher basic dynamic load ratings, and an increased basic rating life.

Robert Globe, Sales and Marketing Manager at Barden comments: "When it comes to dental turbine bearings, the main requirements are longer life, high speed, reduced noise, low temperature and resistance to sterilisation. Over the last five years, our production plant in the UK has invested significant amounts of money in new production machinery. We've developed new honing techniques which enable us to produce super precision deep groove or angular contact ball bearings with extremely tight controls on both the roundness and surface finish of the inner and outer ring raceways - two critical factors that affect the performance and life expectancy of a dental turbine bearing."

Amongst dental bearing suppliers, Barden is renowned for its exceptional service to OEM customers. As Globe explains: "Barden has been at the forefront of dental bearing design for more than 25 years and so we have a very collaborative relationship with our OEM customers. Whilst we can provide suitable replacement bearings for any make or model of dental handpiece, very often there is a need for us to customise the bearing in order to provide an optimised design for a particular application. This is one of Barden's core strengths as a business. The ability to custom engineer a bearing for an OEM is important, because OEMs are continually improving their handpiece designs, so the bearing has to be constantly improved too. OEMs also need samples and prototypes of the bearing at short notice, which again we are able to provide."

Hybrid Ceramic Bearings

An Important bearing feature is the use of ceramic balls rather than steel balls. Ceramic balls are harder, lighter and more wear resistant than their steel counterparts. At speeds of around 450,000 rpm, this means the ceramic balls generate less centrifugal force, which reduces wear and internal loads on the bearing. Lubricant life is also extended, since ceramic balls produce fewer wear particles than steel balls. Barden is one of the world's leading suppliers of ceramic hybrid bearings.

"Whilst Barden is not the only supplier that can offer ceramic balls, we are unique in that, as a company, we are in complete control of the quality, cost and delivery of the ceramic balls," says Globe.

"Unlike other suppliers of dental bearings, we have our own manufacturing facilities for producing ceramic balls. Based in the US, Winsted is also part of The Schaeffler Group, which means we are able to control the quality and specify the roundness of the ceramic balls."

On the R&D side, Barden constantly develops and tests new cage designs and materials, as well as new coatings, surface treatments, seals and lubricants.

Mark Pritchard, Senior Product Engineer at Barden comments: "We've developed new, improved sealing designs in which the shield is incorporated into the outer ring. This reduces the critical gap between the integral shield and the bearing inner raceway by 60 per cent compared to conventional shield-and-circlip designs. This provides significant advantages such as minimising the risk of shield ejection, preventing contamination and retaining lubricant more effectively, which in turn results in a bearing with a much improved operational life."

Sterilisation Cycles and New Bearing Designs

A typical dental handpiece bearing and turbine assembly has not changed all that much over the last 50 years. Most dental turbine designs are based on a miniature Pelton Wheel. The Borden Rotor, which was introduced back in 1957, was the prototype of the modern air turbine. Turbine bearings are extremely small, with most having a bore size of 3.175mm and an outside diameter of 6.35mm.

In terms of inner and outer rings, "Barden is at the forefront of bearing design and manufacture," says Pritchard. "The machinery we have here in the UK enables us to produce bearings with a typical roundness of 0.5µm. Special attention is also paid to ensure that the ring harmonic levels are kept low. Both the rate of change, the magnitude and the number of lobes are carefully controlled."

"All races are double honed and super finished, typically in the region of 0.01µm Ra. Our dental bearings are supplied with the bore calibrated in either 2.5µm or 1.0µm steps, which provides a more accurate assembly," he adds.

In dental turbines, cage breakage is responsible for 90 per cent of bearing-related failures. Turbine bearings do not fail due to fatigue, the cause of a cage breaking is normally due to cage wear and subsequent fracture.

Most cages for deep groove ball bearings are snap type retainer cages. The opening for inserting the ball must be designed in such a way that the prongs do not break when pushing the balls in. To hold the balls in the pocket, a narrower width is desirable. This type of cage has been used for decades and is still being used today.

Angular contact ball bearings have a 'halo' or window cage that is easier to manufacture and will not be ejected from the bearing when worn. This cage is stronger and less vulnerable to the effects of repeated sterilisation of the dental handpiece.

Normally for high speed dental applications, phenolic resin is the chosen cage material. This offers modest, but sufficient tensile strength, low friction and is less sensitive to poor lubrication. However, the material does degrade when exposed to heat, particularly at the temperatures required for sterilisation.

Sterilising the dental handpiece after every patient requires a strong heat resistant cage material and so more recent cage designs use graphite or PTFE fillers. Used predominantly in angular contact bearings, these materials are more sensitive to poor lubrication compared to phenolic.


Dental bearings need to be protected against contamination from the outside and to keep lubricant inside. Low noise and vibration are critical for good turbine operation. Not only does the air stream take lubricant along with it, it also results in air noise. Also, when the turbine is stopped and no air is flowing, a vacuum is created within the turbine and so outside air that contains all kinds of contaminants will rush in if there is inadequate shielding.


Normally, dental bearings use AISI 440C stainless steel balls. These balls are between 1mm and 1.6mm diameter, depending on the type of bearing used. The ceramic ball first found use in dental bearings in the early 1990s due to drastic reductions in the cost of manufacturing and technological advancements. The advantages of using ceramic balls are their lower density (3200 Kg/m3 ) compared to steel balls (7800 Kg/m3 ). This results in lower centrifugal forces and therefore improved kinematics (spin, roll and ball excursion), reduced build up of heat, lower stress levels and reduced forces on the cage.

In addition, ceramic balls are tribo-chemically inert, which reduces adhesive wear and improves the life of the lubricant. Also, unlike steel balls, there is no risk of ceramic balls cold welding to the rings.

Assembly and cleanliness are also important in dental bearings. As Pritchard explains: "All Barden dental bearings are assembled in Class 10,000 cleanrooms here in the UK. Actual assembly takes place in laminar flow clean air, Class 100 benches, with the number and size of airborne contaminants strictly controlled."


Barden dental bearings can be supplied with a number of different lubrication options. Bearings can be oiled, where the customer uses their own lubrication, or greased with Barden's own standard grease or with a type of grease agreed with the customer. Some dental bearings are supplied dry, when the bore is glued onto the rotor shaft.

Lubricants must not contains toxic chemicals or carcinogens and must be safe for human contact. This means that there are only a small number of greases which are both safe and effective as a lubricant.

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