From grocery store checkout scanners to military weapon guidance systems, lasers are a part of our everyday lives. Dentists are using lasers, too, virtually eliminating the need for anesthesia and without the noise that accompanies other dental equipment.
Speaking here at the American Dental Association’s 144th Annual Session, Joel M. White, DDS, MS, professor, University of California School of Dentistry, San Francisco, CA, says there are many general dental uses for a variety of lasers, such as diagnosing cavities, removing gum and tooth structure to treat disease, helping to harden some restorative materials (such as certain dental fillings), and even to enhance tooth whitening. Dr. White says that dental laser procedures are minimally invasive and can result in less tissue removal, less bleeding and less discomfort for patients after surgery.
Lasers can be used to help detect dental disease its earliest stages and also in the treatment of gum disease to remove diseased tissue and help decontaminate infected pockets that have formed between the teeth and gums.
Without anesthesia or a drill, a dentist can prepare a small cavity for a filling by vaporizing the decay using a laser that passes through a fiber connected to a pencil-like handpiece. Special goggles must be worn by both dental professionals and patients during laser procedures to protect the eyes from laser light.
However, lasers also have some disadvantages, Dr. White says. Studies show laser procedures take longer than traditional methods. Lasers cannot be used on teeth with existing fillings because the laser heats the filling, running the risk of tooth damage. Also, certain types of fillings damage the laser tip. As yet, there is no single laser to handle multiple dental procedures, and the cost of laser equipment compared to traditional equipment is relatively high.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) granted marketing clearance in 1991 for soft tissue surgery and hardening of composite resin dental fillings. In 1997, the first hard tissue dental applications were introduced. Most recently, FDA clearance has been granted for using dental lasers on children. Today, there are over 17 different dental laser applications that can help patients achieve better oral health.
According to a survey published by the American Dental Association in 2000, less than 10 percent of dentists surveyed use lasers. That number will continue to rise, Dr. White predicts, based on a 2002 survey of dentists by a trade publication which indicates that after a year or more, 14 percent of dentists plan to purchase a laser for hard tissue and 10 percent for soft tissue applications.
“The continued development of dental lasers helps dentistry provide the best care for our patients,” Dr. White says. “The science surrounding dental lasers continues to support their current use and shows promise for future applications of lasers in dentistry.”
Please note: The presentation described in this news release does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of the American Dental Association.
Materials provided by American Dental Association. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
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