Air Abrasion is a relatively new technology used for treating cavities that can often eliminate the need for an anesthetic injection and the dental drill. Air abrasion works like a precise sand-blaster, where tiny, harmless particles of aluminum oxide are propelled against the tooth, removing a cavity. Although the concept of air abrasion originated decades ago, only recently has advances in technology and modern dental filling materials sparked new interest in the method.
You may be thinking, “No needle, no drill, this is too good to be true. How come every dentist in America isn’t using air abrasion?” The reason is that air abrasion can only be used for a limited number of procedures, and its cost is relatively high. Air abrasion is primarily used for treating small to medium sized cavities, preparing teeth for protective dental sealants, and removing stains on the surface of the teeth. Air abrasion prepares teeth that are ideal for the placement of the white “resin” fillings, and is not often used with silver (amalgam) or most other dental materials. Air abrasion cannot be used for preparing crowns (caps), shaping the roots during root canal therapy, gum treatment, removing soft decay found in deep cavities and other procedures preformed in the dental office.
One of the advantages of treating cavities with air abrasion is the conservative nature of the procedure, where only a small amount of the tooth is removed at a time. A small to medium sized cavity can usually be treated without anesthesia in minutes, silently (no disquieting whistle of the dental drill), and with little or no discomfort. There is a powdery residue after treatment, which is usually suctioned out or limited with the use of a rubber barrier (dam) during treatment. Most patients find the power residue less of a nuisance than the build-up of fluids that sometimes accompanies the use of a dental drill.
In my office, I use air abrasion for patient treatment about 10% of the time. I have found that air abrasion is most useful with anxious patients and children. Patients that are fearful are relieved if their cavities can be treated painlessly and without a needle or drill. Children who are often apprehensive about many aspects of dental treatment are thrilled with the air abrasion alternative. Although air abrasion is not a panacea, it is certainly a useful addition to modern dental treatment, and a must for every dental office interested in patient comfort.