Air Polishing: A State-of-the-Art Elephant in the Room

Air PolishingA dentist’s chair is rarely a site for sights. Nothing out of the ordinary is the mark of a professional dental practice after all. Waiting either eagerly or nervously for the dentist to begin the treatment procedure may draw one’s eyes to the various niceties inside a room. A large overhead lamp, a small sink, a tray of various metal tools, a few charts, a line of cabinets and what seems to be an elephant’s trunk. Again, nothing out of the ordinary.


This plastic proboscis is nothing more than just another dental apparatus, but a very advanced one at that. Air polishing is a relatively new tooth cleaning (prophylaxis) method that utilises ‘adequately powerful’ streams of water. ‘Adequately powerful’ today, since air polishers from several years ago were notoriously messy and unpleasantly forceful. Not to mention the salty sodium bicarbonate powder that meets the jets of water on its air-propelled way out.

Dentists from mention how dental practices all over Europe are phasing out sodium bicarbonate powders to make way for safer, more pleasant-tasting air polishing powders. They cite glycine-based powder as the most notable alternative, as several investigations have already demonstrated how it causes significantly less surface damage compared to sodium bicarbonate.


Having a dentist subject teeth to a steady stream of cleansing water is far more appealing than having them scrape off plaque using metal ‘picks’. But, this does not mean patients should expect air polishing to be the standard cleaning procedure for all dentists’ appointments anytime soon.

In fact, the American Dental Hygienists' Association listed several contraindications for air polishing procedures last 2010, covering several patient types who should not be subjected to the cleaning method.

Currently, a myriad of position papers and treatment guidelines can aid dentists in their clinical decision-making, as well as several research efforts striving to make elephantine bounds on the speed, safety and convenience of air polishing technology.