A dental laser is designed specifically for use in oral surgery on the gums, and teeth or bone of the mandible or maxilla. In the early 1990’s the Food and Drug Administration approved
the use of lasers for oral surgery on the gums, and then shortly after lasers gained approval in 1996 for oral surgery of the hard tissue like teeth or the bone of the mandible and maxilla.
The most commonly used lasers are the yttrium aluminum garnet laser, the carbon dioxide laser, and the diode laser.
Types of Lasers
The different types of lasers produce different wave lengths of light energy and this determines their application. For instance, the diode laser is used for soft tissue applications such as contouring of the gums and for performing a gingivectomy. (A gingivectomy is a procedure to remove and reshape loose and/or diseased gum tissue to get rid of pockets between the teeth and gums)
Although the use of dental lasers in oral surgery is far superior to older methods for some procedures, they are out performed by the drill in others. For instance, when a laser is used for a gingivectomy or to contour gums, there is little to no blood as the laser cauterizes as it cuts away the material. Lasers also reduce the need for anesthetics as it deadens the nerve as it cuts the flesh and so there is little pain, the laser also lessens the risk for infection following surgery.
Although the laser is superior for some procedures, the drill still outperforms it for many others, taking this into consideration, and the cost of the laser unit being sometimes prohibitive, a dental laser costs between eight thousand and fifty thousand dollars compared to the old style pneumatic dental drill costing between two hundred and five hundred dollars.
Uses for Dental Lasers
Although not every dentist uses dental lasers, they are becoming more commonplace as the technology advances and becomes more affordable. Besides the soft tissue work dentists utilize lasers for they also perform other procedures with lasers. Dentists use lasers to remove decay from a tooth in preparation for a filling. They then may use the laser to “cure” or harden a filling.
Lasers are often used to remove tissue for biopsy and to remove lesions. Lasers are also used to activate peroxide-bleach solutions in tooth whitening procedures. Other benefits of using lasers for dental procedures are that they may be less painful, reducing anesthesia use.
Lasers may also reduce anxiety in patients due to the sound the drill makes. Lasers also reduce the amount of bleeding and swelling after procedures performed on the gum, and they help preserve more of the healthy tooth when used to remove tooth decay. Even with all of these benefits, there are still negatives to laser use.
The dentist cannot use a laser on a tooth that already contains fillings. Lasers can’t be used for many commonly performed dental procedures, such as, lasers cannot be used for filling cavities between teeth or near existing fillings or for preparing a tooth for a crown that has a large cavity. A laser cannot be used to remove a defective crown, an old silver filling, or for preparation for the placement of a bridge.
Pneumatic drills are still best to shape a filling, and polish fillings. Being relatively new in dentistry, the laser is becoming more common place and will most likely see increased use as the technology develops further.