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Many people can’t think of going to the dentist without imagining the sound of the dental drill. That’s because, whether preparing a tooth for a dental crown, removing cavities, or performing root canal therapy, dentists have relied on this time-tested technology for years. However, modern dentists also have a newer option for removing portions of the tooth structure without that familiar noise of a drill: air abrasion. It may surprise patients who experience dental anxiety at the thought of a traditional drill to discover that air abrasion, an alternative to drills, is available for many procedures.

What is air abrasion?

Air abrasion, also called micro-abrasion, is a method for removing tooth decay with tiny particles of aluminum oxide or silica. Imagine a miniature sandblaster gently wearing away the decayed material without the sound or feel of a drill. Your dentist uses compressed air to spray a stream of the sand-like particles at the affected tooth while an assistant gently suctions away the excess. Besides removing tooth decay, dentists often use air abrasion to prepare a tooth for dental sealants or dental bonding, cleaning teeth before cementing on a new crown, and cleaning out the tooth before placing a filling. Old tooth-colored fillings can be removed with the technique as well without damaging the healthy tooth structure. Sometimes, air abrasion can even remove stains on the tooth surface.

Is air abrasion safe?

Yes, air abrasion is extremely safe. The only precaution needed before air abrasion is protective eyewear to avoid getting the powder in your eyes. We also use a suction is also used to help with the inhalation of any particles.

What are the advantages of air abrasion?

Compared with the traditional drilling method, the advantages of air abrasion are many and include:

  • Air abrasion generates no heat, pressure, or vibration.
  • It sometimes reduces the need for anesthesia, particularly if the cavity is shallow.
  • It leaves more of the healthy tooth tissue behind.
  • It can help reduce the risk of fracturing and chipping of the tooth. The procedure is relatively simple, although it may take longer than traditional drilling.

What are the disadvantages?

  • Air abrasion is not necessarily free of pain. The air and abrasive particles can cause sensitivity.
  • We do not recommend air abrasion for deep cavities (those close to the tooth’s pulp) or cavities in between teeth. It is best suited for removing small cavities that form early on the outer or chewing surface of teeth.
  • If hard enamel needs to be removed to access the decay, this cannot be done with air abrasion and a traditional drill must be used. Once we have access to the decay, we can use air abrasion.
  • Crowns, onlays, and inlays cannot be prepared using air abrasion.

Is it suitable for everyone?

Yes. It is an especially good option for children who may be afraid of the needle, and the noise and vibration of a regular dental drill. However, there are some treatments, like crown and bridge preparation, that still require the use of a dental drill. Air abrasion can’t be used as an alternative for every procedure.

What other types of procedures use air abrasion?

Air abrasion can also be used to:

  • Remove some old composite (tooth-colored) restorations, but not metallic restorations such as silver amalgam fillings or gold.
  • Prepare a tooth surface for bonding or sealants
  • Remove superficial stains and tooth discolorations

If you would like more information about if Air Abrasion is right for you, call Pinnacle Dental today for more information!