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Air Abrasion

Air abrasion is a newer technique that is being used by some dentists to remove tooth decay and for other applications described below.

How does air abrasion work?

An instrument that works like a mini sandblaster is used to spray away decay. During the procedure, 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.

Is air abrasion safe?

Yes. The only precautions needed 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.

What are the advantages of air abrasion?

Compared with the traditional drilling method, the advantages of air abrasion are many.

  • The procedure generates no heat, sound, pressure or vibration.
  • It reduces the need for anesthesia, particularly if the cavity is shallow.
  • It leaves much more of the healthy tooth tissue behind.
  • It leaves the working area relatively dry, which is an advantage during the placement of composite fillings.
  • It reduces the risk of microfracturing and chipping of the tooth, which some experts believe can lead to premature restorative failures.
  • It 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?

  • The procedure is not necessarily totally painless. The air can cause sensitivity and so can the abrasives used.
  • The procedure is not recommended for deep cavities (those close to the tooth’s plup). It is best suited for removing small cavities that form early on the surface of teeth.
  • Only composite filling material can be used following the procedure 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.

In addition to cleaning out tooth decay, what other types of procedures can be 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 discolorations