Air Abrasion


Although not used much today, air abrasion is an alternative to the dental “drill”.  It is used to prepare teeth for the placement of white fillings (composites) and sealants.

What is air abrasion?

Air abrasion involves the use of compressed air to direct an abrasive material (aluminum oxide powder, for example) at the surface of teeth to remove Cavities /Tooth Decay or to widen the tooth grooves for the placement of sealants. Although dental air abrasion has existed since the 1940s, it was not until white fillings became popular that it became more useful. In the 1940s, the only filling materials available were silver (amalgam) and gold foil. Both materials require special preparation of the tooth to hold the filling in place.

Silver fillings (amalgam), require the tooth be prepared with mechanical retention such as an undercut; this holds the filling in the tooth over years of use. Air abrasion is not used to prepare a tooth for a silver filling because it cannot accurately place the mechanical retention needed to hold the filling in place.

With the introduction of white fillings (composites or bonded dentistry) fillings no longer require the increased removal of tooth structure (as in the placement of mechanical retention) to make the filling stay in place because the filling is chemically bonded to the tooth. As a result, air abrasion is now primarily used to remove just enough tooth structure to eliminate decay or to gently widen deep grooves in order to chemically bond a filling or sealant material to the tooth.

Benefits of dental air abrasion

  1. An absence of noise, water spray, and vibration.
  2. No “burning smell” sometimes sensed with a tooth drilling process.
  3. If used properly, there is no need for anesthesia, or the “shot.”
  4. It allows for conservative removal of tooth decay.
  5. It does a very good job of removing old white fillings that need to be replaced.

Limitations of dental air abrasion

  1. The use of a rubber dam may be necessary; air abrasion blows powder all over the mouth and the dental professional needs to be sure the other teeth are not abraded during the dental procedure.
  2. It does not work to remove silver fillings.
  3. If a silver filling is desired by the patient, air abrasion cannot be used because the dental “drill” is needed to make the precise undercuts required to hold the filling in place
  4. Dental air abrasion is messy.
  5. With the advent of dental lasers, air abrasion may become obsolete.