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Air Abrasion: an Effective and More Comfortable Alternative to the Dental Drill


Fillings are essential for saving decayed teeth and restoring much of their strength and function. And, with contemporary tooth-colored fillings that approach the strength of traditional metal amalgam now available, your teeth can also look as good as new.

To place a filling, though, your tooth must be prepared by removing any of the weakened decay structure and enlarging the cavity to accommodate the filling. Traditionally, this has required drilling with a dental drill, a procedure performed with a local anesthetic and capable of producing pressure and noise that’s uncomfortable for some people.

But a new technology known as air or particle abrasion is growing in popularity as an alternative to the dental drill. Rather than a rotating burr, an air abrasion instrument emits an air-pressured stream of fine metallic particles, usually aluminum oxide, that can remove decayed structure and even stains, and can clean and roughen the remaining tooth surface to better contain the filling.

Using a fine-tipped nozzle especially designed for air abrasion, we can precisely aim the stream to remove the softer decayed portions of the teeth while minimally affecting healthy structure. There’s less of an impact on the tooth and the patient: the abrasion instrument doesn’t produce the sounds and vibrations associated with a drill and can be performed without local anesthesia.

Air abrasion, though, does produce a large amount of dust from the abrasive particles that requires containment measures both in the patient’s mouth (to prevent swallowing the dust) and in the office. It’s also less effective than a drill with preparing larger cavities or redoing older fillings.

Still, it has proven effective with many decay situations, smoothing out chipped areas or other superficial defects in the enamel. As it becomes more available, air abrasion promises to be an efficient and more comfortable alternative to the dental drill.

If you would like more information on filling preparation with air abrasion, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Air Abrasion Technology.”

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