Lasers are in smart-bombs, CD players, and bar-code readers at the grocery checkout counter. Now they're showing up in your dentist's office.
What Is a Laser?
A laser is a device that creates a dense, powerful beam of light. The beam from a low-power laser can play the music on a CD or read those weird bar codes on your box of corn flakes. High-power lasers can make precise cuts through thick steel or blow up a guided missile. It's the low-power lasers that dentists are starting to use.
How They're Used?
Experimental dental lasers have been around since the 1960s, but have
only recently been approved for treating the dental consumer. There are
basically four uses for the dental laser.
First, it can cut and remove gum tissue. The procedure, say proponents of the laser, promotes faster healing, lowers the risk of infection, reduces pain after treatment and it's quiet. In the chair all you hear is the hissing of the air jet that cools the spot where the beam is focused. Interestingly, its opponents say the laser is no better than conventional dental tools. One of these, a device that uses an electric current to cut and remove dental tissue, is silent, fast, and not as expensive as a laser.
The second use for a dental laser is in hardening filling materials. Conventional
hardening lights will work in about 30 seconds. The laser reduces hardening
time to five or ten seconds.
The third use shows up in the practice of cosmetic dentistry. The concentrated heat of a laser, say some dentists, is ideal for speeding the process of bleaching teeth. Others use various other high intensity lights.
A fourth application for dental lasers is in cutting through tooth structure.
Instead of the whine of the dental handpiece (drill), patients hear a series
of rapid popping sounds as the beam interacts with the natural water in
your tooth to systematically create tiny holes in it. Dental lasers don't
really shine here. They're slower and less precise than dental handpieces
and they can't be used to remove old fillings or prepare teeth for crowns.
Do they hurt?
Here is where they have the edge over the traditional handpiece. Though it depends on the extent of the treatment, many patients report little or no discomfort, even without anesthetic.
Survey Says Dental lasers are hot technology, but they're also expensive. With typical costs for one laser ranging from $15,000 to $50,000, many dentists are postponing their purchases until prices drop. But dentists are buying laser systems.
If your dentist asks you to put on dark glasses while you're in the dental chair, they're probably not trying to help you hide from the glamour photographers. Chances are, you're being introduced to a dental laser.