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Lasers Shine a Light on Dentistry

Lasers have revolutionized medicine and now they're beginning to blaze a new trail in dentistry

By Dr. Joel M. White

(Continued)

Time to Put Down the Drill?

Laser dentistry in dental office.
Photo courtesy of Dr. David Eshom

Lasers in many hard tissue dental applications (tooth enamel, dentine and bone) eliminate the need for the dental drill, thus relieving patients of the noise and vibration that can be disturbing and uncomfortable. They're also quite precise in the amount of tissue they remove, ideal for selective removal of early enamel caries (decay) and small cavities. Lasers have been shown to be less invasive and less destructive then the dental drill, saving patients' tooth structure. For larger cavities, lasers are a bit slower than conventional methods, which makes them inefficient. A dentist can prepare a small cavity for a filling by vaporizing the decay using a laser that passes through a fiber which is connected to a hand-piece just about the size of a pencil. Laser light is also useful as an aid in hardening composite resin (a common tooth colored filling material) and sometimes to help activate tooth whitening chemicals.

Most recently, lasers are being used for bone surgery, during periodontal (gum) surgery for re-contouring and removal of bone and for uncovering “impacted” wisdom teeth that need to be removed.

The science surrounding dental lasers continues to support their many current uses and shows promise for future applications of lasers in dentistry.

To be Fair

Lasers also have some disadvantages. Studies show laser procedures take longer than traditional methods. Lasers cannot be used on existing amalgam fillings because of the potential mercury exposure and the heating of metal restorations (fillings and crowns), which runs the risk of tooth damage. As yet there is no single laser to handle all the dental uses, however many dental laser systems have multiple dental applications. In addition, the cost of laser equipment compared to traditional equipment is relatively high.

Continuing development and research in the field of dental lasers will ensure that dentistry provides the best care for our patients. The science surrounding dental lasers continues to support their many current uses and shows promise for future applications of lasers in dentistry.

Training

Dentists and dental hygienists who use lasers and dental assistants who set up and monitor lasers, need specific training in safe laser use. Any laser can harm thin tissue, if used with too much power or for too long a period of time, so training is important. The Academy of Laser Dentistry is an international professional membership association of dental practitioners and supporting organizations dedicated to improving the health and well being of patients through proper use of laser technology. The Academy actively supports education and research through its certification programs, publication, meetings and additional activities. The Academy of Laser Dentistry supports certification of practitioners who use lasers in accordance with the Curriculum Guidelines and Standards for Dental Laser Education. These guidelines are the internationally recognized standard for dental laser use. They establish standards of education in the use of lasers in dentistry and define standards for the demonstration of competency in the safe and effective use of lasers by dental professionals.



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