Cosmetic Dentistry Technology Air Abrasion

For many people, going to the dentist evokes the unpleasant smell of latex and fluoride, the shrill whining sound of the dreaded drill and the sudden twinges of pain when the dentist pokes around a cavity. It is no wonder that an estimated 75 percent of American adults fear the dentist.

Dental air abrasion has become a popular alternative to the dental drill, removing tooth decay in a safe and quick way.

How Dental Air Abrasion Works

Dental air abrasion uses a handheld tool similar to a miniature sandblaster to spray away decay by shooting streams of micron aluminum oxide powder through a fine tip onto the surface of the tooth. As the stream of particles hits the tooth, it removes the surface build-up in a gentle but very efficient manner, doing the same job as the conventional drill without the side effects of vibration, noise, heat or pressure. The particles are then suctioned away with another instrument, leaving the tooth clean.

When Dental Air Abrasion Can Be Used

Dental air abrasion can be used in virtually all the same processes that the traditional drill is used in. It is most commonly used to:

  • prepare a cavity for a filling
  • prepare a tooth for bonding or sealants
  • remove old composite restorations
  • remove plaque and tooth decay
  • remove superficial tooth stains and discolorations.

Dental air abrasion is a good alternative for young children and patients who have more fear than tooth decay.

Advantages of Dental Air Abrasion

Some of the advantages to using dental air abrasion include that it:

  • doesn’t produce the burning smell associated with drilling
  • generates no noise, heat, pressure or vibration, which are the common complaints about the conventional drill
  • leaves more of the tooth in tact
  • leaves the treated area of the tooth relatively dry, making sealants and filings bond better
  • reduces the need for anesthetics and, in some cases, eliminates it altogether
  • reduces the risk of micro-fracturing, a problem sometimes caused by drilling.

The whole procedure is simple and quick, allowing the dentist to treat multiple sites in one visit.

The Downside of Dental Air Abrasion

Dental air abrasion has its disadvantages as well. Particles from the instrument can hit gums, causing discomfort or pain if the dentist does not cover them well. Furthermore, air abrasion techniques can’t be used for deep cavities that reach close into the tooth’s pulp. When used to prepare a tooth for a filling, only composite materials can be used because dental air abrasion leaves a smooth surface that silver fillings can’t adhere well to.

Dental air abrasion is a good alternative to the traditional drill that provides many benefits and reduces the anxieties many people associate with a trip to the dentist. It is a safe procedure that can be pain-free. Because dental air abrasion can be used in place of the drill (in most instances), it may not have any extra costs, and additional fees are likely to be covered by most insurance plans.


Edwards, M. (January 1, 2004). Air Abrasion. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from the Dental Fear Central Web site.

Johnstone, G. (February 1, 2008). Dental Technologies. Retrieved April 14, 2008, from the Your Dentistry Guide Web site.

Roshoff, J. (March 1, 2007). Air Abrasion (Drill-less Dentistry). Retrieved April 14, 2008, from the WebMD Web site.