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Shining a Light on Laser Dental Technology

Jun 26, 2013


Luke and Darth's
Photo source: plumbananas.com

When Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader introduced us to laser technology in that galaxy far, far away, I wonder if there were any dental nerds that thought, “I’d bet I could really zap a cavity with that,” or “The Force is strong with this one?”

Lasers have been used in dentistry since 1994 to treat oral issues, none of which have involved storm troopers, droids or death stars. Even better, for many people receiving laser dental treatment there is no numbing shot or treatment pain. Unlike the lasers used at rock concerts and the cold lasers used to relieve headaches and inflammation (phototherapy), the lasers used in dental procedures are more like Luke and Darth’s which are used for vaporizing and “reshaping.” 

Fortunately, dentists in our galaxy use lasers mostly to reshape gums and cut out tissue and tooth decay – rather than limbs and headgear. But they do much more than cutting and reshaping. Before beaming us up, let’s look at what exactly a laser is.

A laser is an instrument that emits a narrow beam of light energy. The acronym derives from the name, “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Now, I know what you’re thinking. Radiation isn’t good for people so how can lasers be used as a source for dental good? A good point, which begs the question…

Is Laser Dentistry Safe? Laser dental systems meet the American Dental Association’s (ADA) safety standards and have cleared more than 20 uses for dental procedures when the procedure is performed by a trained practitioner according to accepted practices. When a dentist performs a laser procedure, you are to wear special eyeglasses to protect your eyes from the beam. That does not mean you and your dentist can re-enact Star Wars scenes or perform laser trick shots with dental mirrors.

Despite Food and Drug Administration approval, the ADA has declined to award their Seal of Acceptance on any laser system since 1994. The ADA says that they remain “cautiously optimistic” about the use of laser technology.
 

Laser Dental Procedures Lasers could become more prevalent in dentistry as technology evolves and costs come down. Presently a standard dental drill cost around $600 but lasers run $39,000 and higher.

Currently dental lasers are used a few ways, including: 

  • Remove decay within a tooth and prep it for the filling. Lasers are also used to harden the filling material.
  • Teeth whitening As reported in Agent Straight-Talk last July, lasers are often used in teeth whitening procedures to activate a peroxide bleaching solution that helps speed up the whitening process.
  • Gum Disease Lasers can reshape gums and remove bacteria and infections during root canal treatment.
  • Biopsy and Lesion Removal A biopsy involves removing a small piece of tissue so it can be examined for cancer. Lasers can also remove mouth lesions and treat canker sores.

  • Types of Dental Lasers There are two types of dental lasers designed to perform specific procedures: Hard Tissue Lasers and Soft Tissue Lasers.

    • Hard Tissue Lasers use a wavelength that is absorbable by the calcium phosphate found in bone, teeth and water. The fiber optic laser makes them well suited for cutting through tooth structure with extreme precision. Hard tissue lasers are also well suited for composite bonding – the removal of decayed tooth structure and the repair of appropriate worn dental fillings.

    • Soft Tissue Lasers are more appropriate for soft tissue procedures like reshaped gums, the removal of canker sores and certain cosmetic procedures. The carbon dioxide laser uses a wavelength that is highly absorbable by water and hemoglobin. This reduces the damage to surrounding tissue and removes tissue faster than a hard tissue laser. This allows faster healing and virtually no post-procedure pain. Until you get the bill, anyway, and if you have one of our insurance plans, that should help considerably.  

    Some lasers generate both hard and soft tissue wavelengths, depending upon a patient’s needs. Other types of lasers are used in non-invasive imaging to view inside a tooth and cell, while still others help heal damaged cells with the use of light spectrums.

    At this point astute readers may be asking about the pros and cons of having a mouthful of laser energy pulsating in their pie hole. Well, since you asked…

    Advantages

  • A reduced need for anesthesia due to less painful treatments
  • Reduced anxiety for patients nervous about dental drills
  • The possibility of preserving more of a healthy tooth during cavity treatment
  • Minimized bleeding and inflammation during soft tissue treatments

  • Disadvantages

  • Lasers cannot be used in many routine dental procedures, including treatment around old fillings or silver fillings, large cavities, defective crowns or prepping teeth for bridges.
  • Can’t be used on teeth with existing fillings
  • Traditional drills are sometimes still required to shape and polish fillings or adjust a bite
  • Expense. The cost of laser treatment is much higher than treatment with a traditional dental drill because laser technology is much more expensive.  

  • If you are interested in going “Star Wars” for your next dental treatment, talk to your dentist about their recommendations.  Before receiving any laser dental treatment verify that the treating dentist has received the proper training and certification. The Academy of Laser Dentistry is dentistry’s independent source for dental laser education and certification.

    Thanks for reading Agent Straight-Talk, and visit us next week when Felicia opens our July series on “The Power of the Brush.”

    Sources:  KnowYourTeeth.com, WebMD, YourDentistryGuide.com, A Girl Named Guy Productions

    Copyright 2013 Bloom Insurance Agency, LLC©

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