In today’s world we are continually looking for ways to give our patients what they want. Many people have talked about the golden age of dentistry as if it occurred some time in the past. I believe that today is the best time ever to be practicing dentistry.
We have the technology available to us today that doctors in the past could only dream of. Interestingly what the mind of man has dreamed of he has achieved. One technology in our practice today is the Dental Lasers.
- Lasers in Dentistry
When thinking of lasers, many of us picture a science fiction movie
character wielding a laser weapon capable of melting or destroying property
(or people, or even aliens) at great distances. While certain laser
technology can indeed cause this type of damage, we must remember that they
are specifically engineered for that purpose. Most lasers, including those
used in dentistry, are engineered and designed to perform special functions
without changing or damaging the surrounding tissues or materials. Think,
instead, of the lasers used around us everyday, such as those found in the
barcode scanners at the grocery store or those that make CD music possible.
Lasers deliver energy in the form of light. Depending on the intended result, this energy travels at different wavelengths and is absorbed by a "target." In dentistry, these targets can be enamel, decay, gum tissue, or whitening enhancers. Each one absorbs a different wavelength of light while reflecting other wavelengths. No measurable effect is seen beyond the intended target site. Lasers are very specific in regard to the wavelength produced. This means that there must be a different laser for each type of procedure that you want to complete. There is little or no sound associated with laser treatment, a pleasant treat for the dental patient who has experienced the whine of the dental drill. As technology advances, we hope to see lasers which can be used for several related treatments combined into one convenient machine.
There are currently four areas of dental care that are enjoying the
benefits of laser technology:
- Cavity removal can be accomplished with two currently available (and
FDA approved) laser machines. Both have the ability to remove decay within a
tooth, and prepare the surrounding enamel for bonded fillings. The need for
anesthesia is greatly reduced or eliminated over the traditional methods.
Laser energy dramatically reduces the bacteria found in dental decay, and has
been demonstrated to enhance the tooth's ability to "heal" in situations
where "deep cavities" had existed. There are, however, several limitations
to laser decay removal including the inability to adequately remove silver
fillings, onlays, and crowns.
- Curing, or hardening bonding materials is another area where lasers
have become important. These lasers drastically reduce the time it takes to
finish a filling, and create what some researchers have shown to be a
- Whitening teeth can be accomplished with special solutions that are
applied to the tooth surface in the dental office and activated by laser
energy. Color changes of several shades is possible in a very short time.
When combined with at-home tray based whitening systems, dramatic changes can be seen in even the most difficult cases.
- Periodontal, or gum related care is the fourth area benefiting from
laser technology. Lasers are currently used for recontouring or reshaping
gums (often described as "plastic surgery for the smile"), removing extra or
diseased gum tissue associated with the use of certain medications or
periodontal disease, and removing the bacteria in periodontal pockets to
promote healing. Healing time and post operative discomfort can be
significantly reduced over the traditional surgical methods.
Dental lasers have been shown to be safe and effective for treating both children and adults. Very specific equipment and training are required to incorporate this technology into the dental office, and many dentists are becoming involved in providing laser care. Research with the technology and design enhancements with the machines themselves are proceeding at a staggering pace. We look to the future with great excitement as the use of laser energy in dentistry expands to