Air Abrasion: Dental Care Without the Drill
Air abrasion is a drill-less technique that is being used by some dentists to remove tooth decay and for other applications.
How Does Air Abrasion Work?
During air abrasion, an instrument that works like a mini sandblaster is used to spray away decay. During air abrasion, a fine stream of particles is aimed at the decayed portion of the tooth. These particles are made of silica, aluminum oxide, or a baking soda mixture and are propelled toward the tooth surface by compressed air or a gas that runs through the dental handpiece. Small particles of decay on the tooth surface are removed as the stream of particles strikes them. The particles of decay are then "suctioned" away through a thin tube.
Is Air Abrasion Safe?
Yes, air abrasion is safe. The only precautions needed before air abrasion are protective eye wear (to prevent eye irritation from the spray) and the use of a rubber dam (a rubber sheet that fits around teeth) or protective resin applied to nearby teeth and gums to protect areas of the mouth that aren't being treated. The suctioning of particles also prevents them from being breathed into the lungs.
What Are the Advantages of Air Abrasion?
Compared with the traditional drilling method, the advantages of air abrasion are many and include the following:
- Air abrasion generates no heat, sound, pressure, or vibration.
- Air abrasion reduces the need for anesthesia, particularly if the cavity is shallow.
- Air abrasion leaves much more of the healthy tooth tissue behind.
- Air abrasion leaves the working area relatively dry, which is an advantage during the placement of composite fillings.
- Air abrasion reduces the risk of fracturing and chipping of the tooth, which some dentists believe can affect the life span of the filling.
- Air abrasion allows the dentist to treat multiple sites in the mouth during a single visit.
- The procedure is relatively simple and quick.
What Are the Disadvantages?
- Air abrasion is not necessarily free of pain. The air and abrasive particles can cause sensitivity.
- Air abrasion is not recommended for deep cavities (those close to the tooth's pulp). It is best suited for removing small cavities that form early on the surface of teeth.
- Only composite filling material can be used following air abrasion because it adheres well to the smooth surface created by the air abrasion (amalgam or silver fillings require drill-based cuts to prevent the filling from falling out).
Who Are the Best Candidates for Air Abrasion Procedures?
Air abrasion is ideal for use in children and others who are fearful and have minimal decay.
What Other Types of Procedures Are Performed With Air Abrasion?
Air abrasion can also be used to:
- Remove some old composite restorations, but not metallic restorations such as silver amalgam fillings
- Prepare a tooth surface for bonding or sealants
- Remove superficial stains and tooth discolorations
Will Dental Insurance Pay for Air Abrasion?
Because dental insurance plans and coverage polices vary widely from plan to plan, it is best to contact your dental insurance provider to determine if air abrasion is a covered procedure.