While not a piece of equipment found in every dental office, dental lasers have been around since 1960, according to a review published by the National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery (NJOMS). Because lasers tout precision, accuracy and potentially less pain for patients, this technology is making its way into dental appointments among more conventional dental tools.
All About Dental Lasers
Laser stands for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation." Laser instruments emit a thin, concentrated beam of light energy. Light is calculated in wavelengths, and each wavelength generates an individual thermal output, so dentists can predict its interaction with a particular tissue. Consequently, some wavelengths are more conducive to performing certain procedures than others. For example, there are select lasers used for soft tissue surgeries while others are effective on hard tissues like tooth enamel and bone, notes the NJOMS.
The light emitted from a laser can remove or shape tissue, making it an effective tool in the following procedures:
- Removing tissue from a partially exposed wisdom tooth
- Reshaping gum tissue that has overgrown due to certain medications
- Removing and reshaping bone and gum tissue during crown lengthening procedures
- Removing inflamed gum tissue
- Removing muscle attachments that restrict tongue or lip movement
- Accelerating in-office tooth whitening procedures
- Reducing the discomfort from cold sores and cankers
- Removing small amounts of tooth enamel
- Preparing tooth enamel for composite bonding
- Repairing certain worn-down fillings
What patients like about laser procedures is that lasers may be used in place of drills or anesthesia, thus minimizing discomfort, reports the Consumer Guide to Dentistry. Bleeding is more controlled in laser procedures, thus lessening the need for sutures. There's also less damage to the surrounding tissue, and healing times are faster than with traditional treatment. Also, bacteria are reduced at the surgical site because the light beam sterilizes the area, limiting the chance of infection.
All lasers sold in the United States have been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration based on data supporting the effectiveness and safety of each laser system. What's more, dentists need training on the use of each specific dental laser device, and they can only use it for the purposes that laser was intended to address. Dentists can be trained by the manufacturer, professional organizations and dental schools. If you are contemplating laser treatment, don't hesitate to ask your dentist about the training they have received.
Another safety concern is protecting your eyes from the laser beam. Your dentist should always give you a pair of special glasses to wear during the procedure.
The high cost of laser equipment and the limited number of procedures that can be performed with each device may deter dentists from investing in dental lasers for their offices. Yet others who have invested stand by the safety and effectiveness.
The American Academy of Periodontology (AAP) says that at this time, there isn't enough evidence to conclude that any laser wavelength is better than the traditional treatments for periodontal disease, like root planing and scaling with hand tools. The AAP also reports that tissue damage can occur if the treatment is done with an inappropriate wavelength.
What's better than a dental laser treatment? Not needing it at all! If you follow regular oral hygiene habits of brushing twice a day, flossing daily and seeing your dentist twice a year for checkups and cleanings, you may never need a dental laser treatment. Consider adding a mouthwash to your homecare routine, like Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield Mouthwash, which kills 99 percent of germs on contact and significantly reduces plaque.
Dental lasers may never completely replace the dental equipment used today, but with continued studies and innovation, lasers may become a more common tool dentists can use to treat their patients. Talk to your dentist if you're interested in learning more about laser treatments, and they can let you know if they're an option for you.