Lasers have been around for a long time in medicine and more recently in dentistry. There are several types of lasers useful to dental treatment; when used correctly, lasers become an invaluable too, creating more comfort during treatment and less discomfort following treatment.
Use of lasers in dentistry:
- Extractions (see Oral Surgery) – the laser can be used in place of a scalpel and a handpiece. In simple extractions, using a laser around the neck of the tooth to move the ligament fibers that are firmly attached to the tooth enabling the clinician to easily remove the tooth. In more difficult extractions, the laser can remove both ligament fibers and move bone to gain better access to the tooth for removal.
- Crown preparations- the laser can be used to stop bleeding and move the tissue away from the finish line the clinician establishes prior to taking an impression needed for the construction of the crown.
- Tooth decay/fillings– Lasers can remove tooth decay and as the laser is being used, it anesthetizes the tooth and allows the clinician to pick up a handpiece or a dental spoon to remove the last amount of decay comfortably.
- Deep decay– traditionally, deep decay is usually isolated and medicated, a procedure called an indirect pulp cap. Instead of placing a medication over the deep decay (and close to the nerve chamber: pulp), a laser can be used over the deep portion of the decay to kill any remaining bacteria.
- Braces (Orthodontics) – Lasers can be used to safely move teeth during treatment. The laser is used over the gum tissue that covers the bone in the area of the desired tooth movement. When teeth are moved too rapidly in conventional orthodontic treatment, the roots of the teeth can become shortened, sometimes so much that the teeth can become loose. A better alternative to safely shorten treatment time is the use of a laser.
- Cold sores and canker sores– Lasers will shorten the duration of either of these annoying situations.
- Biopsies- Soft tissue biopsies are more comfortably treated when taken with a laser rather that a scalpel.
- Root canal treatment (Endodontics) – We now know that there are numerous tiny canals inside most teeth. The main canals can be seen on x-rays, but the tiny accessory canals cannot be seen until the canals are filled with sealer cement, used at the end of the cleaning of the main, visible canals. If the tiny accessory canals are unable to be thoroughly cleaned during the root canal treatment, the treatment can fail, requiring retreatment or even extraction of the tooth. The light emitted from lasers can be used down inside the tooth to kill bacteria in the tiny accessory canals and allows the sealer cement to fill these extra canals, improving the outcome of treatment.
- Gum disease (Periodontal treatment) – Perhaps the most incredible use of lasers is the advances it has made in treating gum disease. Lasers effectively kill bacteria and destroy the toxins produced by these bacteria; further, they create an environment whereby the bone regrows and the ligament reattaches to the tooth root. It isn’t a cure, but a reversal of the disease process that can be monitored and controlled by appropriate visits and home care.
- Tightening of skin- There is a new laser being introduced in dentistry that can tighten skin on the lips, cheeks, jowls, all from inside the mouth. No cutting and non-invasive.
- Snoring – Lasers can be used inside the throat area to reduce the incidence and severity of snoring.
- Silver fillings – This is the one area of dentistry that lasers cannot be used. Silver fillings are metal and the light emitted from lasers would be reflected from the metal surface, damaging the laser.
Professional use of lasers
The use of lasers in dentistry requires training and understanding of their use and limitations. Minimally invasive and kinder to the oral tissues, it’s easy to see why the body’s reaction to use of the laser is more favorable. Certification can be sought through the Academy of Laser Dentistry.