In the 1960’s as soon as lasers were invented dentists were wondering if these powerful forms of light could be used on teeth. And though the early lasers were too crude to use on teeth, they knew even then there was potential! Today after decades of research in honing the laser, they are on the cusp of transforming dentistry as we know it, providing painless dental procedures.
Today’s lasers are fine-tuned instruments that can safely and painlessly remove cavities, and cut soft tissue without bleeding. Even more revolutionary may be their ability to prevent cavities before they start. The prospect of painless cavity repairs and preventing them could hold wide appeal for so many American children and adults. And lasers are especially appealing for young patients who are nervous about the drill
Easy-to-use lasers are coming to the market with more clinical data on their benefits. Lasers may soon see wider adoption in dental offices across the country.
Microsecond pulses delivered at just the right wavelength and in specially designed lasers can alter the chemical composition of teeth enamel, making it stronger. They are known as short-pulsed carbon dioxide lasers. Heat from the laser changes the top layer of enamel from the usual to one which is more resistant to acid produced by bacteria. Acid eating away at teeth enamel is the instigator of cavities.
A prescription fluoride toothpaste can help protect and remineralize teeth with daily use, but lasers can achieve long-lasting benefits with one treatment. This could be a great option for teenagers with orthodontic braces that make teeth more difficult to brush, for example, and others prone to teeth decay.
Decades of Research
What was needed was a laser that was tunable to the right wavelength – like tuning a radio to the right station – as well as energy and pulse duration. It took many years and collaboration with laser physicists to develop a laser that could heat the tooth enamel for just a few microseconds to stabilize the crystals, without heating the underlying tissue. Lasers were also being studied to cut soft tissue and to remove cavities in place of a drill, but lasers for prevention required extra precision.
The Future, Now
Despite decades of promising research, estimates that less than 10 percent of dentists currently use lasers in their practice, and mostly for soft tissue surgery. Part of the problem was the lack of high-quality, user-friendly commercial lasers, though that has changed. To most people, laser dentistry still sounds like the stuff of the future. At Pediatric Dentistry of Pleasant Hill, we are loving our new laser and so are our patients.
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