Using Lasers in Modern Dentistry

Out with the Old:

For the past couple of decades, the traditional system of finding tooth decay has been reliant on an instrument nicknamed the “explorer”. Now primitive, the explorer was used by prodding and poking around in the patient’s mouth during a checkup. If the explorer sticks in a tooth involuntarily, then that tooth is examined more carefully to see if they find excessive decay.

Many dental offices still use this instrument due to its reliability and practical nature. However, dental experts have recently uncovered the truth about sharp dental explorers: they can cause cavitation in areas that are that are remineralizing or could be remineralized. To add to the danger, the use of a dental explorer, with firm pressure applied to probe certain areas, may result in the rupture of the surface layer covering early lesions.

With the everlasting wave of new evidence surfacing that shows just how dangerous these explorers can be, the question most dental care firms have to ask themselves is this: Do we resort to using sharp eyes and a blunt probe for tooth decay checkups, or do we find a new method? Thankfully, this question has been answered by the all new method of laser tooth decay detection.

In with the New:

Already many dentists are switching to the all-new diode laser, a tool that is much better at its job than the dental explorer ever was. In the diode laser, energy is focused at the site of a semiconductor that is embedded inside of a crystal. The energy gathered is then transmitted through a flexible optical fiber to a handheld unit that is operated by the dentist during the treatment.

So, what are the Functions of the Diode Lasers?

  1. Plaque Removal: The diode laser’s primary purpose in the dentist office is to remove any cavity-causing plaque off of damaged teeth. The laser is powerful enough to remove even the heavily structures deposits, leaving a patient’s teeth shiny and clean.
  2. Teeth Whitening: A secondary focus o the diode laser is its incomparable ability to lock on a coat of teeth-whitening gel. Before the use of the diode laser not too long ago, over-the-counter whitening products only reached a maximum of making teeth five shades lighter. The diode laser treatment can now whiten teeth up to ten shades lighter, doubling the previous processes.
  3. Soft-Tissue Surgery: Are you still not convinced of the diode laser’s many capabilities? How about looking at the fact that it can perform soft-tissue surgery. It is able to remove tumors and deposits from the tissue of the mouth without the patient having to go through an intense surgery with an extensive recovery phase. The laser can kill many forms of bacteria, so it is often used to sterilize areas of the mouth during operations such as root canals or cavity treatment.
  4. Gum Contouring: The laser has been used in some cases to reshape a patient’s gum lines. Nevertheless, the diode laser is not the most reliable resource for this operation.

Is the Diode Laser the Only of Its Kind?

Although the diode laser may be the most practical of its kind in today’s orthopedic industry, there are a few other dental lasers that are important to touch on: the Nd: YAG laser, the carbon dioxide laser, and the erbium laser.

Nd: YAG Laser

This laser was the first true pulsed laser to be marketed exclusively for dental use in 1990. They operate at a near infrared wavelength of 1064 nm. They are still used in today’s dental practices due to their unparalleled success in detecting issues in the deep tissue of the mouth. The wavelength from the laser is absorbed by the hemoglobin in the tissue, and the lower the interaction rate is, the more damage to the tissue there is. The Nd: YAG laser is unique for its capacity to stimulate fibrin formation and track biostimulative properties. This laser is absolutely necessary for periodontal treatments (treatments for bacterial infections that destroy attachment fibers that hold teeth in place). Without its use, there would be little to no treatment of bacterial decontamination in deep tissue pockets.

Carbon Dioxide Laser

When first created the carbon dioxide laser was not intended for dental care, but rather for construction. Nonetheless, ever since scientists used carbon dioxide lasers at a microscopic scale in dentistry, the rest was history. These lasers have become so successful because water in soft tissue absorbs the frequency of light rather well. This being so, the carbon dioxide laser has been used in recent years for surgery and skin resurfacing (also laser facelifts). They are exceptionally good at removing potentially cancerous bumps and pods that haunt the skin of many older patients. The 10.6 wavelength CO2 laser remains the best surgical laser for the soft tissue where both cutting and hemostasis are achieved photo-thermally.

Erbium Laser

The erbium laser is a means of dramatic laser skin treatment that is only used on rare occasion. The procedure successfully removes a wide range of imperfections from superficial lines to moderately deep wrinkles. The patient experiences less pain, fewer side-effects, and a more rapid recovery than with traditional treatments. The erbium laser is a less invasive treatment option than the carbon dioxide laser however. The only downfall to the erbium laser is that it strictly deals with skin resurfacing. It has no purpose when it comes to soft-tissue damage or deep-tissue damage.

Is Laser Treatment Safe?

There are always drawbacks for any new medical practice that a select few scientists will say is dangerous to the average patient. However, most studies show that the probability of laser treatment in dental care causing tumors or cancerous lumps is less than 1%. Also, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) recommends that there be administrative controls for laser use and many dentist offices are taking this recommendation to heart. The hazard zone for laser use is the small area around the laser where the wavelength impacts the skin. Again though, this worry is miniscule compared to the many worries that come along with using dental explorers and other primitive instruments for locating tooth decay and other practices.