What is Dental Abrasion?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Dental abrasion may be defined in two different ways. It can refer to the wearing away of the tooth or teeth, especially when things like toothbrushes or toothpicks are used frequently. At other times, dental abrasion or air abrasion is a dental technique that may be employed in lieu of dental drills to remove small amounts of tooth decay.

Dental abrasion involves the wearing away of enamel.
Dental abrasion involves the wearing away of enamel.

In the former definition, dental abrasion may occur in a variety of circumstances and can damage teeth. One common cause of abrasion is hard brushing, which may ultimately cause the teeth to have a notched look, especially around the gum line. Dentists are anxious to remind patients that brushing harder isn’t better. Instead, frequent brushing with a soft brush will help minimize tooth decay without causing tooth damage, especially when combined with regular flossing.

Hard brushing may cause dental abrasion.
Hard brushing may cause dental abrasion.

While it could take years for teeth to look dramatically different as a result of dental abrasion, the way teeth feel may change sooner. Damaging the outer lining of teeth can cause tooth pain and tooth sensitivity to temperature. Those who get regular dental exams will hopefully have signs of dental abrasion pointed out by a dentist who can then make recommendations on how to minimize this in the future. Sometimes, severe abrasion may require filling or other repair. This is not always needed, and dentists may simply be able to get clients to stop any behaviors that are resulting in problems with the teeth.

Dentists often tell their patients that brushing harder isn't better than frequent brushing with a soft brush.
Dentists often tell their patients that brushing harder isn't better than frequent brushing with a soft brush.

The other form of dental abrasion refers to a technique that does not employ a dental drill. Called air abrasion, this procedure uses compressed air to blow a special metal-based powder onto a tooth to remove decay. Some dentists market this as drill-less dentistry and it may be especially useful for those afraid of the noise or vibration of the dental drill, or afraid of novocaine shots. There may be no need for any type of numbing of the mouth, though some people report slight discomfort during air abrasion.

Abrasive toothpaste can wear away enamel.
Abrasive toothpaste can wear away enamel.

Air abrasion doesn’t always work. Deep fillings require the traditional drill. However it can be effective for decay close to the tooth surface. It can also remove some types of fillings, but it isn’t suited for preparing teeth for most metal fillings because it doesn’t create the kind of tooth surface to which these fillings will bond.

There is question for many people regarding whether dental insurance plans will cover air abrasion. This typically depends on individual plan and the reason for which abrasion is being applied. Since air dental abrasion may additionally be used to remove tooth staining, some insurance companies specify that abrasion techniques are only covered for treating tooth decay, and some companies may not cover this relatively new procedure for any reason.

Deep fillings often require using a traditional dental drill.
Deep fillings often require using a traditional dental drill.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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