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Laser Dentistry – Step Away from the Drill
Written by Dan Tidsbury   

Can the painful dental visit be a thing of the past?

laser dentistryA visit to the dentist has long been a source of anxiety for many, and certainly for me. The reasons vary: the discomfort of being almost upside down, the inability to see what is going on, and, of course, no small amount of pain associated with many dental procedures. Adding to my anxiety is the array of dental apparatus that has far too much in common with the power tools section of a home improvement store.

Good news! Relief has arrived with exciting advances in the use of laser technology in the dental clinic.

The Laser vs. the Drill

It starts with detection and diagnosis. Utilizing low-intensity laser technology enables the dentist to find cavities earlier than was possible with traditional diagnostic methods. A non-invasive laser detects bacterial contaminants beneath the surface of the tooth and measures the decay. The sooner the cavity is detected, the less invasive the remedial procedures will need to be. Smaller fillings performed earlier prevent the problem from developing, reduce the amount of destructive preparation of the tooth, and often require no anaesthetic.

Drilling the teeth in the manner we are all too familiar with has a number of negative aspects. Typical drilling produces heat and vibration. The first effect of these is, of course, pain, which necessitates the use of anaesthetics. More than the pain, however, drilling also produces vibrations that can cause microfractures in the tooth being drilled as well as inadvertent damage to adjacent teeth. The unprecedented accuracy of the laser permits precise removal of decay without affecting surrounding healthy tissue. Gone also is the noise produced by the drill that is often enough on its own to generate stress and tension.

Lasers used in dental filling procedures are able to kill bacteria located in a cavity by evaporating the moisture content of the germ cells, destroying them in the process. Destruction of natural tooth structure is minimized and the enamel and dentine are conditioned to enhance the bonding of restorative material.

The Many Benefits of the Laser

Other dental procedures also benefit from the use of lasers. Gum disease is likely the most common chronic infection in our body. Incorporating laser gum therapy into a treatment program can reduce the need for costly and uncomfortable gum surgery. It can be used for a wide range of hard and soft tissue procedures – decay removal, cavity preparation, root canals, smile design, gum and bone surgical procedures and many others.

Laser technology in dental surgery speeds healing. Laser energy cuts gums precisely because it only affects tissue on gums, reducing or completely eliminating bleeding during these procedures, so surgical procedures using a dental laser may not require stitches. Infections are minimal as the laser sanitizes the area being worked on. In periodontal surgery, dental lasers can reshape gum tissue and bone to expose healthier tooth structure. Crown lengthening provides a stronger foundation for the placement of restorations and gum reshaping will improve the appearance of a gummy smile. Dental lasers can even be used for the removal of benign tumors from the oral cavity and the procedure is usually painless and suture free.

Other laser therapies include treating sensitivity by sealing tubules on the root of the tooth that are responsible for hot and cold tooth sensitivity. Also, low intensity lasers may be used to speed up the bleaching process associated with teeth whitening.

Laser dentistry has a number of corollary benefits. Performing many procedures without anesthetic eliminates the time it takes to give shots and wait for numbing to occur, so the patient can get in and out of the dentist’s chair faster. Giving fewer shots and less local anesthetic also allows the dentist to work on more cavities at once, since dentists usually avoid numbing more than one area of the mouth at one time. Natural teeth are preserved for a longer time and healthy tooth substances are protected. Children and anxious patients are spared the physical and emotional stress commonly experienced with dental care. Something as simple as leaving the dental office without the discomfort and embarrassment of a numb, drooping, still-frozen lip reduces the impact of the dental visit on the rest of the day.

Different laser devices are employed for different procedures, and as with any other area of medical care, the tool is only as effective as the hands that wield it. Look for a dental professional with specific training in the use of laser technology combined with experience in its clinical application.

Laser dentistry is no cure-all, but it gives your dentist a new range of options in enhancing both the quality of your care and the comfort of the overall experience. On your next visit to a dental professional, discuss the role that laser treatments can play in your treatment program. The answers may change your whole outlook on caring for your teeth.

Dan Tidsbury - Copy Editor

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