Rare is the person who goes through life without a single cavity. (If you know any people this fortunate, we would love to meet them!) Of course, a cavity means a filling, and a filling means—you guessed it—a drill. Or maybe not. Today, we can use air abrasion to remove decay and portions of tooth structure to prepare your tooth for a filling.
A cavity is the result of tooth decay, and tooth decay is caused by bacteria that live naturally in our mouths. If not removed with regular brushing and flossing, then bacteria can multiply. As they feed off of the sugars in many foods, they produce acids that erode tooth enamel. After a certain amount of erosion, a hole develops in your tooth and that’s a cavity.
Before the cavity can be filled, we need to remove the decayed material that has accumulated, as well as some of your natural tooth structure in order to make room for the filling. Traditionally, this removal was performed by a small drill. You may be familiar with this device and the high-pitched noise and vibration it generates. Not exactly a favorite of our patients.
Air abrasion, on the other hand, removes debris and tooth structure with minuscule bits if aluminum oxide or silica that are forcefully directed at your tooth. Imagine a small sandblaster, if you will. Similarly, air abrasion removes decayed material. We use compressed air to blast these particles at your cavity. As air abrasion is performed, we suction away the waste. Once this process is complete, we can go ahead and fill your cavity with a tooth-colored filling.
The Advantages of Air Abrasion
The most obvious advantage of air abrasion is that it is a much more pleasant way for us to remove decay than is a traditional drill. This process allows us to remove less of your original tooth structure. As conservative dentists, we prefer to retain as much natural tooth structure as possible. Doing so leaves you with a stronger and more durable tooth after the cavity is filled.
In addition, because we remove less tooth structure with air abrasion, you may not require anesthesia for every cavity we treat. Surface cavities can often be prepared without a local anesthetic if we are using air abrasion.
Of course, there are instances when a traditional drill is necessary, such as when we need to prepare your tooth for a porcelain crown, treating a cavity that is deep inside a tooth or when performing a root canal treatment. Otherwise, air abrasion may be the ideal solution for preparing your tooth for dental treatment.