Lasers in Dentistry
Lasers have been used in dentistry since the 1990’s, but are presently only utilized by a minority of dentists. No laser system has yet received the American Dental Association's (ADA) Seal of Acceptance. The seal assures dentists that the product or device meets ADA standards of safety and efficacy---among other things. The ADA, however, is cautiously optimistic about the future of laser technology.
Uses of a Dental Laser
Hot (or cutting) dental lasers are currently being used for the following:
- Tooth decay. Lasers are used to remove decay within a tooth and prepare the surrounding enamel for receipt of the filling. Lasers are also used to "cure" or harden a filling. For deeper decay, the laser must be used in conjunction with a traditional dental drill, which explains why most dentists are not using a laser for removal of tooth decay (the dentist still needs to use a drill in many cases and cannot rely on just a laser).
- Gum contouring. Lasers are used to reshape the gums into a more esthetically pleasing configuration. This is becoming a relatively common use of the laser.
- Control of periodontal (gum) disease. Problem bacteria are controlled with laser energy.
- Soft tissue procedures. Lasers are occasionally used for biopsies, lesion removal, or frenectomies (releasing the tension on a piece of tissue that is preventing a part of the body from moving too far---commonly the upper lip).
- Teeth whitening. Lasers can be used for teeth whitening, but due to increasing concerns over possible tooth desiccation during the procedure, most whitening is being done with a chemical process that relies on analogues of hydrogen peroxide. In some cases (Zoom, BriteSmile, etc.), the whitening process is light-activated (whitening is accelerated by shining a light on the teeth). However, this light is typically not a laser.
Cold lasers are being used by some dentists to help control tooth sensitivity, inflammation, and TMJ (jaw point) pain. We at the Mitchell Dental Spa have found the cold laser to be most effective on low level (not acute) pain, i.e. it is best for areas that are sore, but not outright painful.
How Do Lasers Work in Dentistry?
All lasers work by delivering energy in the form of light. When used for surgical and dental procedures, the laser acts as a cutting instrument or a vaporizer of tissue that it comes in contact with. Lower energy settings can be used for other purposes.
What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using a Laser in Dentistry?
Compared to the traditional dental drill, lasers:
- May cause less pain in some instances, reducing the need for anesthesia.
- May reduce anxiety in patients uncomfortable with the use of the dental drill.
- Minimize bleeding and swelling during soft tissue treatments.
The disadvantages of lasers are that:
- Lasers cannot be used on teeth that have silver fillings.
- Lasers cannot be utilized for many commonly performed dental procedures. For example, traditional dental drills are much more effective than lasers when: 1) Doing cavities between teeth, 2) Working around old fillings, 3) Preparing a tooth for a crown, or 4) Prepping the teeth for a bridge.
- A procedure that has been started with a laser may still have to be finished with a dental drill. Lasers are not very useful in situations where the dentist needs to shape a filling, adjust the bite, or polish a completed filling.
- Lasers do not eliminate the need for anesthesia.
- Laser treatment tends to be more expensive than traditional treatment, since lasers are much more expensive than conventional dental drills.