Dentistry has seen many innovations over the years, from the introduction of film radiography to today’s 3D digital imaging technologies. In the last couple of decades, magnification has grown in popularity among dental and specialty practices, allowing clinicians improved visualization compared to the naked eye.
The two most popular magnification technologies today are dental loupes and microscopes. In this article, we’ll compare and contrast these devices, from cost to ergonomics. For full disclosure, our company manufactures microscopes, but we understand there may be areas where loupes provide advantages, such as cost. We do our best to provide honest and transparent advice so you can make an educated decision. That being said, let’s take a quick look at each technology and then compare features/benefits across 5 key categories. Watch the video, or continue reading below.
Dental Loupes: Affordable and Compact
Dental loupes are popular, especially among general dentists performing routine procedures where lower magnification levels can aid in visualization but there is less need for seeing higher levels of detail. Dental loupes typically provide magnification from 2X-6X, although there are brands that can reach 10X. Small, compact and typically relatively affordable in cost, loupes are often the first entry point for magnification tools among general dentists.
Loupes usually include frames and optics and are available in a few configurations, from fixed optics to optics that flip up out of the user’s sight line. Options include magnification level, light source attachments, frame-mounted video cameras and a high level of customization in the design of the frames to improve comfort.
Microscopes: It’s All in The Details
Once thought of as a specialized tool only necessary for endodontics, microscopes have been increasing in popularity among general dentists as they realize the benefits magnification can bring to routine procedures, restorations and endodontic therapies being performed in their own practice. Microscopes provide a big assist in identifying small details like cracks, caries and root canals, providing magnification levels up to 20X.
Typically, a dental microscope includes a powerful, fixed light source and can be mounted in a variety of configurations, from a fixed ceiling/wall mount to a rolling cart for portability between operatories.
Loupes Vs. Microscope: The 5 Features
Cost (Winner – Loupes)
Loupes start around $500-600 and can exceed $2,000 for high-end models. There is an additional cost for video camera and light attachments.
Dental microscopes can range from $13,000-$70,000. However, in our experience, you can purchase a well-equipped microscope between $19,000-$30,000 depending on brand and desired options. If you’re solely focused on the up-front investment, loupes are definitely a more attractive option.
For a full review of microscope pricing, check out this article.
Magnification (Winner – Microscope)
Loupes generally offer 2X-6X magnification (limited brands offer up to 10X) for general dental procedures. While older loupe technologies only allowed for one power of magnification, newer styles provide the ability to shift between magnification levels on the fly. This is definitely an improvement but still falls a bit short when compared to a microscope. If you want to get the best visualization for any procedure along with the ability to see even smaller details like cracks, caries, or root canals, a microscope offers a far superior experience.
Additionally, loupes will typically have a smaller field of view, especially as magnification level increases. The field of view of a microscope provides a much wider area, providing a clear view of the full dentition at lower magnification powers, while still being able to see surrounding tissues at higher magnification.
So, for magnification, the microscope takes the prize.
Additional Functionality (Winner – Microscope)
Loupes offer light attachments for illuminating the oral cavity while microscopes utilize onboard LEDs for the same purpose. However, microscopes end up with superior execution here.
Dental microscopes typically provide much brighter light so the illumination of the oral cavity is drastically improved. There are less shadows to complicate procedures in comparison to the onboard light used in conjunction with loupes. Microscopes also have the advantage of a fixed light source that, unlike loupes, stays perfectly positioned over the patient’s mouth. Many microscopes also offer additional light filters to optimize visualization of hard vs soft tissue.
Finally, most microscope models can also utilize attachments for photo/video documentation. For loupes, you would need to rely on an additional technology, like a clip-on video camera or intraoral camera, for photo/video. This is not an ideal solution, as clip-on cameras move with your head, so it’s difficult to maintain proper framing of the video. It can also become cumbersome to constantly switch from your handpiece to an intraoral camera during a procedure. We have seen practices get around this by having an assistant document the procedure via an external camera while the dentist performs the treatment through their loupes. Again, it’s a decent work around but it’s not an optimal approach.
Ultimately, in the battle of additional accessories, loupes come up a bit short. Put a check in the microscope column.
Portability (Winner – Loupes)
The form factor of loupes is inherently more portable than a microscope, so for pure ease of movement between operatories, loupes have the advantage. Usually, microscopes are mounted on a wall, ceiling or inside a cabinet, although many manufacturers do offer a rolling cart configuration so that the microscope can be more easily moved between exam rooms.
One thing to consider is that because loupes are so portable, they are more susceptible to accidental drops or damage. However, for pure ease of movement, loupes get the nod here.
Comfort and Ergonomics (Winner – Microscope)
I’ll start this section by stating that loupes definitely provide an ergonomic benefit over practicing dentistry with just the naked eye. Loupes allow you to sit more upright by optimizing your viewing angle, which reduces strain on your neck, shoulders and back.
Microscopes, however, take ergonomic advantages a bit further. Here’s how:
Loupes feature fixed focus, so it can be difficult to maintain the correct distance for optimum focus if you move your head or turn your neck, which is common due to the added weight of the loupes on your head. Keep in mind, the higher the magnification of the loupes, the more weight your head and neck will need to support.
Once you are trained on how to properly configure your microscope, you can sit completely upright, focusing all of your movements on just the fine motor functions of your forearms and hands. Once you get a microscope positioned correctly for your patient, you can make very small adjustments to keep the device in optimal focus, without having to raise or lower the entire scope.
Another concept that you may not be aware of is convergence of the eyes. With loupes, your eyes must look inward (converge) to focus on a close-up object – this often results in eye strain and headaches. In microscopes, the design of the optics allows you to look straight ahead with both eyes, reducing strain.
Dentists we talk to find that the improved ergonomics and comfort offered by a microscope is one of the best benefits of going that route, even going so far as to say that their microscope contributed to extending their career by relieving pain in their neck and back.
Conclusion: Loupes Vs. Microscope
In our comparison of loupes and microscopes across 5 key categories, microscopes take a 3-2 win. While both technologies allow for the incorporation of magnification into your clinical procedures, they have quite a few key differences.
Loupes are the most cost-effective and portable method of incorporating magnification into your clinical procedures. Based purely on cost, loupes are honestly hard to beat and can be seen as a great first step into dental magnification. Loupes are small, which provides superior portability. However, microscopes bring an entirely new level of visual acuity to dentistry, which is what this comparison is ultimately all about.
While microscopes are widely known for their use in endodontics, there are definite benefits for even routine dental procedures. Locating cracks, caries, root canals for endo procedures and performing more accurate restorations with improved margins are just a few areas where a microscope can be an advantageous tool in the dental practice.
The ergonomic benefits of microscopy can provide a much higher level of comfort while allowing you to focus on the tiniest detail of any procedure. The added advantage of video/photo documentation aids in patient case presentation and serves as a clinical reference during treatment planning.
To wrap this up, loupes can be a good start for adding magnification to your arsenal of dental tools but when you’re ready for the next step, a microscope can make a big difference in the level of clarity and detail you’re seeing during procedures. Our best advice? Try both and decide which works best for you (check out this infographic for quick reference):
Questions? Reach Out!
As the only US-based manufacturer of dental microscopes sold worldwide, we know a thing or two about magnification. If you’re considering adding a microscope to your practice or you just want to learn more about utilizing a dental microscope, we are here to help! Please feel free to reach out at 800-861-3585 or by clicking the button below.