Air Abrasion: Dental Care Without the Drill

When there is decay in a tooth – a cavity – your dentist will need to remove that decay before applying a filling to the tooth.  In the past, the most common method of removing this decay was with a dental drill.  However, with recent innovations in the field of dentistry, new methods of removing decay are now being used and one of these methods is air abrasion.

Air abrasion is a drill-less method of removing tooth decay.  During the procedure, a fine stream of particles made of silica, aluminum oxide or a baking soda mixture are propelled towards the surface of the tooth by either compressed air or a gas through a dental instrument.  When the particles hit the surface of the tooth, the decay is removed by abrasion and then suctioned away through a thin tube.

Air abrasion is a fairly safe technique for removing tooth decay.  However, to prevent eye irritation from the spray, eye protection is worn, and to protect nearby gums and teeth, either a rubber dam or protective resin is used, as well.

The advantages of air abrasion over the traditional drilling method, include the following:

  • Air abrasion reduces the need for anesthesia
  • Air abrasion generates no heat, sound, pressure or vibration
  • Air abrasion leaves the mouth fairly dry, which aids in the placement of composite fillings
  • Air abrasion leaves more of the healthy tooth tissue behind
  • Air abrasion reduces the risk of fracturing or chipping a tooth
  • Air abrasion allows a dentist to treat multiple sites in the mouth during one visit
  • Air abrasion is a relatively simple and quick procedure

There are, however, disadvantages to this procedure as well.

  • The air and abrasive particles can cause sensitivity
  • The procedure is not recommended for deep cavities
  • After the procedure, only composite filling material can be used

The procedure of air abrasion is also used to remove old composite restorations, but cannot be used to remove metallic restorations.  It is  used to prepare a tooth surface for bonding or sealants and to remove superficial stains and tooth discolorations, as well.

The best candidates for air abrasion procedures are children and those patients with minimal decay who are afraid of the sound, vibration and pressure of traditional drill.