Air abrasion is a non-drilling technique that is being used to remove tooth decay and for other applications. The air abrasion unit is an instrument that works like a mini sandblaster and is used to spray away decay. During air abrasion, a fine stream of particles is aimed at the decayed portion of the tooth. These particles are made of silica, aluminum oxide, or a baking soda mixture and are propelled toward the tooth surface by compressed air. Small particles of decay on the tooth surface are removed as the stream of particles strikes them. The particles of decay are then suctioned away.
Air abrasion reduces the need for anesthesia, particularly if the cavity is shallow and leaves much more of the healthy tooth tissue behind. Air abrasion is not recommended for deep cavities. It is best suited for removing small cavities that form early on the surface of teeth. Only composite filling material can be used following air abrasion because it adheres well to the smooth surface created by the air abrasion (amalgam or silver fillings require drill-based cuts to prevent the filling from falling out).