Drilling teeth is an essential part of repairing and restoring the damage caused by tooth decay. For generations dentists have relied on the dental drill with its rotating burr to remove decayed and damaged tooth material.
But while the dental drill is effective it also has its disadvantages. In the process of removing decayed material it inadvertently removes healthy structure near the target material. It often requires anesthesia to deaden the work area. And its noise and vibration are often unsettling to patients.
There is a growing alternative, though: air abrasion, a technology that's been around since the mid-20th Century. But recent advances in controlling the dust created by using abrasion, as well as new tooth-colored bonding materials to replace tooth structure, have sparked new interest among dentists and patients alike.
Also known as particle abrasion, this drill alternative uses a pressurized stream of fine particles to remove decayed material. Using a hand wand a dentist can precisely aim the stream of particles (usually aluminum oxide) to the specific areas of decay or softened material that need to be removed. As a result, it removes only a fraction of healthy tooth structure compared to traditional drilling. Air abrasion has also proven effective for removing staining without harming enamel.
Air abrasion also eliminates the sound and vibration associated with dental drills, and may not always require local anesthesia. On the other hand, it does have some limitations. For one, it's not as effective with larger cavities or working around older fillings. The tooth or teeth to be worked on must be carefully isolated from the rest of the mouth to keep the patient from swallowing the abrasive particles. And without a high-volume suction pump and good isolation protocols, the particles can produce something of a “sandstorm” in the treatment room.
But as air abrasion continues to advance, we may see improvements in these limitations. In a future time, the traditional dental drill may go the way of the horse and buggy.
If you would like more information on air abrasion as an alternative to drilling, 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.”