The only way to treat tooth decay is to cut away the decaying portion of the tooth. Hand dental drills have been used since the 1700's; the current high-speed versions have been used since the early 1960's. Air abrasion, one form of drill-less dentistry, is an effective alternative for treating small cavities or children. A high-pressure instrument similar to a tiny sandblaster shoots a powerful stream of aluminum oxide particles onto the tooth structure. The particles bounce off the tooth and blast the decay away. There's no heat or vibration and on most patients air abrasion can be used without anesthesia. During the process, small dusty particles of debris will accumulate, leaving a gritty feeling requiring constant rinsing. Your dentist may use a rubber dam in your mouth to act as a particle barrier. In addition, you may be required to wear protective glasses. Air abrasion can also be used to repair cracks, discolorations, and prepare tooth surfaces for bonding procedures. Since air abrasion is more precise than the dental drill, less of the healthy part of your tooth is removed and the chance of producing small fractures in your tooth enamel is reduced. Air abrasion is an especially good alternative for children or adults who are afraid of a needle and the noise and vibration of the regular dental drill. Although not an alternative for all procedures, ask your dentist if this technique may be right for you.
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