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What is Laser Dentistry? – Everything You Need to Know

Laser Dentistry by Dental Aware feature image

Today we discuss one leap in dentistry and technology and find out: What is laser dentistry?

Laser dentistry is the use of lasers to perform a variety of different dental procedures.

Having been used in the dental industry for the last thirty years, laser dentistry is increasing in popularity as the years go by.

Laser dentistry offers more comfortable, pain-free and efficient treatment options than those traditional dental treatments that involve the use of the drill, the scalpel and other standard dental tools.

With little to no need for anaesthetic, and a far faster healing process with little to no bleeding or swelling occurring during treatment, it is little wonder that many people in today’s society are contemplating the laser over the drill.

This is regardless of the fact that laser can be a far more costly and slow procedure than traditional dentistry.

Why has it increased so much in popularity?

Well, you can’t help but love a procedure that is minimally invasive, that still produces maximum oral health care benefits.

So today I will be sharing with you the growth in the industry of laser dentistry, and its’ foreseeable future.

We will also discuss the different types of lasers used, exactly how they work, and the treatments they are used for, including, but not limited to;

  • Root canals
  • Teeth whitening
  • Snoring
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Hypersensitivity
  • Periodontitis (gum disease)
  • Impacted (stuck) wisdom teeth

Today’s article is quite a lengthy one, as it contains quite a lot of information on Laser dentistry.

Please see the Table of Contents below, as this will help you refer directly through to any section you wish to read.

However, for anyone out there with who wishes to learn the ins and outs of Laser dentistry, try reading the article all the way from start to finish. In doing so, you’ll find yourself picking up a lot of valuable information along the way!

So please, put up your feet and enjoy your read. After all, we all love to leave the Dentists’ office with a great big smile on our face, but it’s even better doing so when we know they are using the latest and greatest technology – that’s when you really know that you have absolutely nothing to be worried about!

When did the Laser start coming into the Dental Industry?

Laser – shortened for “Light Amplification by the Stimulated Emission of Radiation” – has been in the dental industry for a very long time.

You may find your Dentist has been using it for up to thirty years, since its development in 1989.

However, its popularity has grown in the last five to ten years, as the lasers have grown along with the technology and become far more efficient.

There are a few different types of lasers, each with different wavelengths, that are suited for different dental treatments.

See “What exactly does a laser do?” if you wish to know more on this topic.

What are Lasers most Commonly used for in the Dental Industry?

Lasers are most commonly used for root canal treatments, as they have been proven to be far more effective than traditional dental treatment.

Their effectiveness comes from what is known as the “photoacoustic effect”.

In this procedure, the laser is used to put a chemical inside your tooth, where it actually creates shockwaves.

These shockwaves send the chemicals into your canal, and these shockwaves go not just straight but also sideways.

This helps your Dentist clean and remove any bacteria more thoroughly than they can in a traditional procedure where they have to use a conventional instrument – generally, without the laser and the chemicals, they cannot reach all the bacteria that actually goes into hiding in little caves inside the tooth once the nerve has died.

With the photoacoustic effect created by the laser, which is the combination of the chemicals that have gone into your tooth and the shockwave effect, all areas of your canal are being thoroughly cleaned and all your debris is being removed.

The outcome of all root canals are dependant on how well your tooth can be cleaned, so this is highly beneficial.

What are the Advantages and Disadvantages of using a Laser for Traditional Dental Treatments?

There are many advantages to having a laser treatment over traditional dental treatment. These include;

  1. Pain is a major factor – Much less pain is caused by using a laser as it is less invasive, reducing the need for anaesthesia. Laser can actually numb the tooth without using injections or the need for any local anaesthetic.
  2. Anxiety may be reduced – If you feel discomfort with the use of the dental drill, you may not have to be worried about this with laser.
  3. Better healing – You will have much better healing after treatments with laser as your tissue will not get damaged as much as it would be in a conventional treatment – there is less bleeding and swelling during treatments. This may also reduce the risk of any scarring of the surrounding areas.
  4. Better preservation of teeth – As the laser treatment is softer and slower, far less of the teeth are removed during laser, and you may find more of your healthy tooth being preserved during cavity removal.

However, there are a lot of downfalls to using the laser as well.

The 4 disadvantages include;

  1. Timing – Lasers can be used for the majority of dental treatments otherwise dealt with scalpels, drills and traditional dental tools. However, the work is performed much slower – treatments can be painstakingly slow and it can take your Dentist far longer to do the same procedure.
  2. Treatments – As mentioned, the laser can be used for the majority of dental treatments – however, not all treatments can be performed with the laser. For example, lasers cannot be used on teeth that contain certain types of fillings, such as metal amalgam. They cannot be used to remove faulty crowns or fillings or prepare teeth before bridges.
  3. Drilling – In some circumstances when using a laser for a procedure, the dental drill may still be required – for example, to shape or polish your filling, or adjust your bite. Thus, the levels of anxiety thought to have been reduced with the use of the laser may not be valid
  4. Cost – Laser treatments are usually far more costly than traditional treatments. This is because the laser itself is a lot more expensive than the traditional drill. A drill may cost on average $600, whereas a laser can cost up to $150,000.

How Much Does the Average Dental Laser Cost?

A laser is quite an expensive machine, with its price ranging from $100,000 to $150,000 depending on their type and what they are capable of performing.

Unlike the dental drill, which cost on average around $600, lasers costs so much because of the technology involved – it really is such a specialised field.

However, you can rest assured that they are a safe and worthy device.

What does a Laser Look Like?

Have you ever seen Star Wars? If you know the movie, then you most certainly know a laser beam. If you know a laser beam, you don’t have to stretch your imagination much further to know what a Dental laser looks like.

Haven’t seen Star Wars or want to stretch your imagination a little further anyway?

The device is a little instrument that can create light energy but does so in a very small, narrow, focused beam.

This laser light is what produces the necessary reaction when it hits your tissue, and this is what allows the ablation to occur.

How does a Laser Work?

A laser works through a process known as ablation.

Ablation means you scrape the top layer of cells off only, so then you have to go back and remove more – it works by taking one layer at a time.

It performs this way for safety reasons – so there is no unnecessary slicing in the mouth or damage to surrounding tissues. However, this is what makes Dental laser a very meticulous and slow process.

What Exactly does a Laser do?

There are two common different types of lasers used by your Dentist, depending on the procedure at hand. Sometimes both are required;

  1. Thermal – Or what is known as a Soft Tissue Laser. A Thermal Laser has a much lower wavelength. It can be used if needed for ablation (that is, to remove anything that is on the top layer, such as bacteria, ulcers, cold sores or viruses). However, as it is thermal it actually goes deeper into the tissue, heating the tissue up because it is attracted by the red blood cells. This means it is actually killing the bacteria through the heat itself. The Soft Tissue Laser is most commonly used for treating periodontitis (gum infection), including killing bacteria, and activating the regrowth of tissue.
  2. Erbium YAG – Or what is known as a Hard Tissue Laser. An Erbium YAG Laser still only removes the top layer, but it has different effects on the tissue. It can cut bone and teeth, removing all of your decay off and amending your tooth structure. This cannot be done with a Thermal laser – it is too risky, as due to the fact it is thermal, the heat can burn your teeth and mouth. Therefore, the Hard Tissue Laser is most commonly used to remove tooth structure.

Is using a Laser Dangerous?

No, having a Dental laser treatment done will never be a dangerous procedure.

One of the main concerns your Dentist will have when it comes to using a laser will actually be their own eyes – as with welding, focusing on what they are doing can affect their optic nerve.

Thus, your Dentist will be wearing eyewear, closing the door, and wearing laser safety equipment, whilst still being very focused on the job at hand. You can ensure that your Dentist will also give you the appropriate glasses to protect your eyes during the procedure.

The main thing that you should have no concern about is the Dentist hitting the wrong area in your mouth – for example if they are meant to be touching your tooth but touch your gum by accident.

A Dental laser is tissue selective, so the wavelength in the laser reacts differently depending on the water in the tissue – that is, they know the difference between a tooth and a gum and will act differently when touching either body part.

So, if your dentist accidentally hits the tissue, because the laser will react so slowly, the gum will heal very quickly and may even kill some bacteria in the meantime!

Due to the fact that the treatment with a laser is quite meticulous and slow, you could even go as far as to say that using the laser is safer than using a knife or other dental tool.

By using the process of ablation and scraping one layer of cells off at a time, there is no unnecessary slicing in the mouth or damage to surrounding tissues.

Dentists’ also need to complete specific training in order to become qualified to use lasers, thus they have a detailed understanding of how the technology works, how to use it safely, and which laser and wavelength to use for which procedure.

Who Benefits the Most from the Use of Dental Lasers?

There is a wide variety of people who benefit greatly from the use of Dental Lasers. The main are;

  • Children – This is due to the pain factor – it will reduce their fear and anxiety of the Dental chair.
  • People who have been traumatised in the past at the Dentist – For the exact same reason as with children, with the laser, there is no need for them to be afraid, as there is less pain, no drilling and no need for injections.

Are more Dentists’ performing laser treatments in recent years?

Yes, the uptake of Dentists’ learning how to perform laser has increased dramatically over recent years, due to the peoples increased interest in it.

More people are looking into it for their children, as are more people who fear the Dental chair in general.

Dentists’ are also recommending laser as a form of treatment, as it is known to be a much safer form of treatment. It is performed far slower, so there is less risk-factor, and there is far less bleeding, so the blood vessels are less damaged during the ablation.

It is also much more efficient at killing infection, and better at cleaning and healing as your tissues are not damaged during the procedure. Sounds to me as though we are talking about a minimally invasive treatment, that still produces maximum oral health care benefits.

All in all, that sounds very much like a smart, safe and healthy option.

What is a Low-level Laser Treatment?

With a handpiece known as a Genova, low-level laser treatment is new on the market and actually acts on the inside of cells themselves, stimulating them to heal.

The pain and healing time from any forms of traditional Dentistry is cut in half with this type of low-level laser treatment, as no tissues are damaged whatsoever.

It penetrates right through into the cells to heal the cells themselves – no cutting or ablation is necessary so it can be used for all types of treatments from muscle soreness to tooth loss.

Used by athletes for muscle soreness, a device called a Biomodulator has been created that works on a similar wavelength to the Genova. This device works on a low frequency, producing microcurrent electrical impulses that are transmitted in short bursts by its electrodes, through to your skin and then to your injured tissues.

It does not produce heat or interferes with your nerve or muscle function.

This process is known as a therapeutic intervention and replaces the need for a Panadol.

Known to be effective at assisting with pain and inflammation, healing tissue and readjusting the natural balance that exists within your cells that may have been thrown into disarray as a result of an injury, the Biomodulator is a representation of how the Genova low-level laser works on treating and healing the tissues within your mouth.

What Else Can a Laser be Used For?

There are many other dental treatments that a laser can be used for, including;

  • Teeth whitening – The laser stimulates the bleach that is placed on the surface of your teeth. This activates it, and so speeds up the whitening process, thus working much better than other forms of teeth whitening.
  • Surgery – If the laser cuts out all blood supply and your Dentist can actually see what they are doing, it makes for a much easier treatment. An example of this is cutting tongue-ties.
  • Tooth decay – The laser can be used to remove the decay within the tooth and prepare it for receiving a filling.
  • Snoring and sleep apnoea – The laser can be used to clear your airways – it can reshape your throat and relieve any breathing problems that are caused by an overgrowth of tissue in your throat, relieving any associated issues with snoring and sleep apnoea.
  • Hypersensitivity – The laser can be used to treat teeth that are overly sensitive to hot or cold, by sealing the tubules on your tooth’s root.
  • Fixing a “gummy smile” – A “gummy smile” is when the gums’ length covers a considerable amount of the teeth. The laser can be used to reshape the gum tissue and alter the appearance of your smile.
  • Gum disease – Periodontitis (gum disease) can be cut away with the laser, and with minimal effect on the healthy tissue surrounding it.
  • Impacted wisdom teeth – The laser can help cut away from your gum tissue, to expose wisdom teeth that have only partially erupted or are impacted (stuck) in your gum.
  • Mouth ulcers – If you have an ulcer or lesion in your mouth that just will not go away, the laser help to reduce pain or even remove tissue for a biopsy.

Laser Treatment and Periodontitis (Gum Disease)

Periodontitis – that is, the inflammation of the periodontal tissue – is a more severe form of gum disease.

It can result from a number of causes including a bad dental cleaning regime, medical conditions such as diabetes, or even taking certain medications.

Untreated gum disease can lead to tooth loss and severe health conditions, as bad as even a stroke.

However, laser is considered to be a good treatment for ridding yourself of periodontal disease. An extremely comfortable and minimally invasive treatment, the laser kills the bacteria whilst the device is introduced into the mouth and the infected gum tissue.

At the same time, it promotes healthy tissue growth to the gums, which allows your bones to heal faster.

The results of laser treatment for periodontitis are long-lasting, therefore the cost is not so much of an issue because you will see the money being well-spent.

Time is also not too much of a problem, as the initial appointment only takes roughly two hours.

Afterwards, two follow-up appointments are required to ensure the health of your mouth and gums. If you continue to follow a good dental health cleaning regime once these appointments are finalised, your gums should stay in a healthy state.

Laser Treatment and Surgery for Tongue-tie

What exactly is tongue-tie? Tongue tie is when the string of tissue underneath your tongue is shorter than normal in length, which is causing you restricted tongue movement.

Common in babies, you may notice them having trouble with taking the breast or with sleep.

As the grow, this will lead to dental problems and difficulty with speech.

You should take your child to the Dentist the moment you suspect they may have a tongue-tie, otherwise, once they get older this can lead to further problems including growth-related issues, social embarrassment, low self-esteem and even ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).

Your Dentist can treat tongue-tie with Laser surgery.

All it takes is the cutting of the string of tissue attached to the tongue with the help of the laser, rather than a scalpel as in traditional Dentistry.

Benefits of performing this treatment through Laser rather than traditional Dentistry include;

  • Minimal bleeding – This helps the tissue heal fast, and ensure there is almost no chance of infection after surgery
  • Safety – Lasers are actually one of the safest, most efficient and most successful options in treating tongue-ties
  • No need for anaesthetics – The procedure can be performed with the help of an anaesthetising gel only, so a shot of anaesthetics is not required
  • No need for stitches – Only a very small incision is made by the laser to help relieve any tension caused by the tissue band. Due to its size, this incision will heal very fast and does not require stitches

Laser Treatment and Wisdom Teeth Removal

Wisdom teeth – those last four molars that erupt usually between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five and cause an awful amount of pain whilst doing so.

Required in ancient times when humans had to rely on a diet of uncooked meat and raw vegetables, we have since evolved and changed to a softer diet, and wisdom teeth have lost their importance, but not their eruption.

In some people, wisdom teeth will only partially erupt. This means that a part of them will stay buried in the gums and bone, while only a small part of them is noticeable inside their mouth.

These are called impacted (or stuck) wisdom teeth. These can also cause many problems. They cannot be brushed or flossed, and so become open to bacteria, leading to infection and swelling.

Swelling, or cysts, may also form within the jawbone. The partially erupted tooth can also affect the root of the tooth next to it, resulting in the loosening of this tooth over time.

Back to the pain during eruption – some people find this pain completely unbearable. This has everything to do with your jaw size – your mouth already has twenty-eight teeth in it, and trying to find space for an extra four teeth can be quite difficult, and very painful.

Apart from all the side-effects of partially erupted wisdom teeth, the older we get the denser our bones become, which makes it more difficult for our wisdom teeth to be removed.

As a result, they should be removed as soon as possible, especially if they are causing high levels of pain.

Lasers are one of the most advanced treatment options for wisdom teeth extraction and are becoming ever more popular due to how comfortable the procedure is.

They also have a number of other benefits. These include;

  1. Stimulation of the tissue growth – One of the best benefits of the laser is that they stimulate the bone and gums, helping them to grow back in a healthy form.
  2. Less trauma – Your wisdom teeth will be removed with the lasers in such a way that very little damage is done to the adjoining bone, therefore there is no impact on the surrounding teeth or gums.
  3. Faster healing – Less damage to your bone and tissue results in faster healing.
  4. Minimal pain and swelling – You should have barely any pain or swelling after the extraction of your wisdom teeth with lasers. This is due to the fact that the laser will actually kill the bacteria whilst performing the procedure.
  5. Less chance of infection – As well as the laser killing the bacteria, your wound will also get sterilised. This means there is little to no chance of getting an infection.

Will Laser Replace Traditional Dentistry in the Future?

There will always be a place in life for traditional Dentistry – the most significant factor involved is time.

Laser is undoubtedly a much slower procedure, and just not everybody has that amount of time for such a meticulous treatment in their lives.

However, there will no doubt continue to be an increase in the number of Dentists using laser over the next few decades, just as there has been over the last thirty years, as its’ popularity continues to increase.

Will the Technology in Laser ever Surpass the Traditional Tools in Dentistry?

There will come a place and time when technology surpasses scalpels and stitches. This is going to have a lot to do with the updates in technology over the years – the right update with the laser needs to be reached, and we just are not there yet.

At this stage, having the laser going faster means making it more dangerous, and that is not where we wish to be.

If the updates in technology reach the right level of speed and time where having a laser operate faster does not put a patient under any more risk, then we might just be right where we need to be.

Don’t lose hope – it’s definitely a reality – as with the updates in the industry and the technology over the last thirty years, the next few decades are certain to be full of developments in dental technologies, and laser will be right at the forefront of those.

Conclusion

Laser dentistry can be used to treat a wide range of dental issues, arraying from easy procedures such as discoloured teeth to more complicated procedures such as dental decay.

The high benefits of this small, handheld device include reduced bleeding and swelling, the reduced risk of infections, the eliminated need for dental drills and anaesthetics, and far less pain throughout your procedure – all of which lead to reduced discomfort and anxiety, to help children or those who may be scared of the Dental chair.

However, laser does tend to have its limitations –including that treatments do tend to be costly, lengthy, and are not available for all disasters or people, such as mouths that contain fillings.

Other than that, there really are no downfalls, as they are a safe treatment that comes with basically no side-effects, and they will only improve in the years to come as the devices enhance along with the technology.

Interested in finding out whether laser treatment is right for you?

Consult your Dentist –they are well-trained if they are qualified to use lasers, so they are bound to have the answer to every question you have.

Dr Veronica Roller

By Dr Veronica Roller

Created at June 05, 2019, Updated at March 06, 2020

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