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What is a laser and how does it work?

A laser is an instrument that produces a very narrow, intense beam of light energy.  The beam of light produced by the laser delivers a controlled amount of energy which creates a chemical reaction, evaporating targeted tissue with incredible accuracy.  This energy is used to remove or shape tissue.  Lasers are used to effectively treat a wide range of dental conditions and are often used in conjunction with other dental instruments.

Are dental lasers safe?

All the dental practitioners at Southport Dental Care are certified to use a dental laser according to the rigid standards outlined by both Health Canada and the Alberta Dental Association and College.  Just as sunglasses are worn to protect a persons eyes from prolonged exposure to the sun, when we perform a laser procedure our patients are asked to wear special eyeglasses to protect their eyes from the laser.  Studies conducted by laser manufacturers show that a laser is as safe and effective as a high-speed drill for removing dental decay, preparing a cavity or for bone re-contouring.

Benefits of lasers in dentistry

  • laser dental procedures often do not require injectable anesthetics, allowing the patient to enjoy a more relaxed dental experience.
  • bacterial infections are minimized because the high-energy laser beam sterilizes the area being worked on.
  • rapid wound healing and tissue regeneration.
  • laser procedures are focused and precise resulting in minimally invasive therapies*.
  • procedures performed using soft tissue dental lasers typically do not require stitches.
  • the high-energy light beam aids in the clotting of exposed blood vessels, minimizing bleeding in surgical sites.
  • dentists are able to precisely remove tooth enamel (the hardest substance in the body) and dental decay and re-contour bone and gum tissue, while leaving surrounding areas of healthy tissue unaffected.
  • using a laser during cavity preparations can increase bond strength of tooth-colored restorations as compared to regular dental instrumentation, resulting in longer lasting fillings**.
  • lasers are extremely versatile and can be used for a wide range of hard and soft tissue procedures.

*The potential for laser dentistry to improve dental procedures rests in the dentist’s ability  to completely control the power output and the duration of exposure of the laser energy on the tissue being treated.  This allows for treatment of a highly specific area of focus without damaging surrounding tissue.

**Shear strength of composite bonded to Er:YAG laser-prepared dentin. Visuri SR, Gilbert JL, Wright DD, Wigdor HA, Walsh JT Jr.  J Dent Res. 1996 Jan;75(1):599-605.

Applications of Lasers in Dentistry

The application of lasers in dentistry opens the door for dentists to perform a wide variety of dental procedures in a manner not seen with traditional techniques.  Dentists using lasers in dentistry have become adept at incorporating this precise technology into a number of common and not-so-common procedures.

Hard Tissue Laser Dental Procedures:

  • Dental fillings/tooth preparation:  Hard tissue lasers frequently eliminate the need for a local anesthetic injections (needle) and the traditional high-speed air turbine dental drill.  Lasers used during filling procedures are capable of killing bacteria located in a cavity and have been shown to result in higher shear bond strengths of white fillings, potentially leading to improved long term tooth restorations.  Dental lasers are NOT appropriate for the removal of old mercury amalgam fillings or metal containing restorations as heavy metals both reflect the laser beam off of the tooth surface making it less effective and produce potentially unsafe by-products.
  • Tooth sensitivity:  Dental lasers may be used to seal the dentinal tubules located on the root surface of the tooth that result in hot, cold and sweet sensitivity.

Soft tissue (Gum) Laser Dental Procedures:

  • Crown Lengthening: Dental lasers can reshape gum tissue and bone to expose healthier tooth structure.  Referred to as crown lengthening, such reshaping provides a stronger foundation for the placement of restorations.
  • Gummy smile: Dental lasers can reshape gum tissue to expose healthy tooth structure and improve the appearance of a gummy smile.
  • Muscle Attachment (frenula): A laser frenectomy is an ideal treatment option for children who are tongue tied (restricted or tight frenulum) and babies unable to breast feed adequately due to limited tongue movement.  A laser frenectomy may also help to eliminate speech impediments and manage gum recession caused by strong muscle pull.
  • Soft Tissue Folds (epulis): Dental lasers may be used for the painless and suture-free removal of soft tissue folds often caused by ill-fitting dentures.

More laser applications:

  • Benign tumours: Dental lasers may be used to for the painless and suture-free removal of benign tumors from the gums, palate, sides of the cheeks, tongue, and lips.
  • Cold sores: Low intensity dental lasers reduce pain associated with cold sores, shorten  the duration of the lesion, and minimize healing time.  They also have been shown, after repeated applications, to eliminate the recurrence of the cold sore.
  • Teeth whitening: Low intensity soft tissue dental lasers may be used to speed up the bleaching process associated with teeth whitening.
  • Temperomandibular joint (TMJ) treatment: Dental lasers may be used to quickly reduce pain and inflammation of the temperomandibular joint.  Dramatic results are often seen after just one or two visits, with longer lasting benefits being achieved in conjunction with other tmj therapies and further laser treatments.