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Good Vibrations about Air Abrasion Technology

Jun 12, 2013

Last week in our series about Dental Technology and You, Felicia briefly discussed a decades-old dental procedure called air abrasion. As an unabashed purveyor of hot air and student of dental duress, I've been intrigued at this miracle of modern 1940’s dental science since reading her post.

Dental Technology and You
Photo source: 

Originally marketed as a painless cavity-mending machine called the Airdent, air abrasion lost out to the tech sexier air rotor, also known as the high speed air turbine. The air turbine, AKA “the drill,” is known far and wide by patients for its high-speed whine and a vibration that would make a La-Z-Boy® recliner proud.

The high-pitched whine of the air turbine is often accompanied by an aroma reminiscent of a burning dog’s tail or orange Jell-O® fried in a vat of year-old motor oil. Decades and thousands of late night jokes later, the shrill whining is as synonymous with dentistry as The National Safety and Traffic Administration is with auto crashes and manufacturer recalls.

But like a cat with nine lives and a double indemnity insurance policy, air abrasion has hung around and is enjoying resurgence due to improvements in technology and advances in dental care.

How does Air Abrasion work? It works like a micro sandblaster that sprays away decay and any food graffiti you missed while brushing and flossing before your dental visit. Today air abrasion is used primarily for treating small to medium sized cavities, preparing teeth for dental sealants and removing stains on the surface of the teeth.

Video source: Medical News Online

During the air abrasion procedure, the dentist aims a fine stream of tiny aluminum oxide particles propelled by compressed air toward the tooth to be treated. When the projected stream hits the tooth from the hand held dental piece, it puffs away gently at the tooth surface. If the tongue gets in the way of the stream, it feels only air pressure. As the air stream strikes the tooth, small particles of tooth decay are removed and suctioned away.

Is Air Abrasion Safe? Yes. Before using air abrasion a dentist may outfit their patient with protective eyewear to prevent eye irritation from the spray. They may also use a rubber dam (a sheet that fits around the teeth) or apply resin to nearby teeth and gums to protect untreated areas. Particles are suctioned during the treatment to prevent them from being breathed into the lungs.

Advantages to Air Abrasion Air abrasion is minimally invasive, meaning that it involves no heat, sound, pressure or vibration. It also: 

  • Is relatively quick and simple
  • Reduces the need for anesthesia
  • Allows the dentist to treat multiple areas during the same visit
  • Leaves more of the healthy tooth tissue intact
  • Leaves the working area mostly dry, which helps during the placement of composite fillings
  • Reduces the risk of fracturing or chipping a tooth
  • Is excellent for young children or adults that fear the dental drill and shots

  • Disadvantages to Air Abrasion Air abrasion is not necessarily pain free. The puffs of air and abrasive particles can cause oral sensitivity. Also, air abrasion:
  • Is not recommended for deep cavities but is best suited for treating small cavities on the surface of teeth
  • Is limited to composite filling material. Amalgam or silver fillings require drill-based cuts so a filling doesn’t fall out
  • Can blow powder into the mouth despite the suction, but rinsing removes the gritty feeling
  • Cannot be used for preparing crowns (caps), root canal therapy, gum treatment and other procedures routinely performed in the dental office

  • Does Dental Insurance Cover Air Abrasion?
    Insurance and discount plans vary so it is best to confirm if your plan provider offers air abrasion as a covered procedure. You can do that by checking your plan’s Evidence of Coverage or by contacting Member Services.

    Thanks for reading Agent Straight-Talk. Be sure to check back next week when Felicia will go Jane Jetson on us with another post on Dental Technology and You.

    Sources: WebMD, Dental Fear Central, Dental Comfort Zone, Medical News Online

    Copyright 2013 Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC©

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