Lasers are a modern technology that generates intense beams of light that pack a lot of energy a narrow beam. Medical and dental lasers mostly do their work by heating materials in a narrow band to the point where they “cook” or even vaporize. Lasers deliver their energy so fast and precisely that material on either side of the work area remains cool. This makes them extremely useful for precise cutting or removal of material.
Dental lasers were introduced in the 1990s. They come in two basic categories: Hard Tissue Lasers are tuned to affect only the materials in teeth – thus they can be used (for example) in place of the traditional dental drill to remove decayed material and prepare teeth for restorations. Soft Tissue Lasers are tuned to affect the gums or the mucosal lining of the mouth. This makes them useful for gum reshaping, lesion removal, and killing off the bacteria responsible for periodontal (gum) disease.
Lasers are very bright. Like staring too long at the sun, they can damage eyesight. For this reason we at Silver Dental first provide you with special glasses to shield your eyes.
Hard Tissue (Tooth) Lasers
Lasers have several advantages over the traditional dental drill:
- They produce less heat so there is a reduced need for traditional anesthetic.
- They’re quieter and vibrate much less.
- Tooth reduction is kept to a minimum.
- The laser creates a highly effective bonding surface on the tooth.
- Without anesthetic, we can work in multiple areas of your mouth in a single visit.
How we use hard tissue lasers: We carefully move the laser over the damaged or decayed portion of your teeth. We use a water spray to cool the teeth we are treating. After preparation, teeth are usually restored with one of the modern white filling materials that can be bonded to the teeth.
With the hard tissue laser, we can remove some kinds of old fillings (not amalgams), repair cavities, and prepare teeth for bonding. It allows us to remove the smallest amount of tooth structure and place strong, natural looking restorations in the shortest amount of time.
Soft Tissue (Gum) Lasers
Lasers are particularly useful for treating gum and soft tissue problems that would otherwise require traditional surgery using scalpels and other cutting instruments. The benefits of laser treatment include:
- faster healing
- less bleeding
- reduced swelling
These benefits derive from the heating effect of the laser. While it is cutting, the laser is simultaneously cauterizing (sealing) the microscopic blood vessels that would otherwise leak fluid into the treated area.
How we use soft tissue lasers: Depending on patient sensitivity and/or the kind of procedure we’re doing, we may numb the area we’ll work on with a local anesthetic. We then sweep the gentle beam over the affected area. The narrow beam only removes a specific number of cell layers on each pass, so we have precise control over the procedure.
Lasers can be used in a wide range of procedures, including:
- cosmetic gum recontouring to reduce that “gummy” smile
- lesion removal (benign tumors and other growths)
- treatment of gum disease
- removal of excess gum tissue
- gum surgery
In sum, dental lasers are an effective modern technology that allow us to work faster and exercise more precise control over procedures. The result is faster healing and less pain for you.
For the Technically Minded – A Bit More Detail about Lasers
Cutting lasers deliver high energy concentrations because they generate coherent light.
Coherence means the energy is delivered in a narrow band of wavelengths – similar to the way an FM radio station broadcasts at a specific wavelength, rather than spreading its energy across the dial. This is very different from white light (like sunlight) which contains a broad spectrum of wavelengths. This is demonstrated every time we see a rainbow; raindrops act like tiny prisms and spread out the sunlight into its component wavelengths, which our eyes perceive as colors.
The great advantage of coherence lies in the way materials respond to lasers of different wavelengths. When visible light is absorbed by a material (as opposed to being reflected), the material heats up – think of the way an asphalt road warms up under sunlight. The light is agitating the atoms that make up the material; their vibration is what we perceive as heat. Cutting lasers deliver light that isn’t just all one color – it’s all one shade of color. Another way of putting this is that almost all the energy of the laser is delivered at one specific wavelength. Different materials heat up to a different extent when hit by lasers of different wavelengths. This is what allows medical and dental lasers to be “tuned” to particular tissues. They will heat only those tissues while leaving other kinds unaffected.
Hard tissue lasers have a wavelength that is highly absorbed by the calcium and other hard materials in teeth. Soft tissue lasers, on the other hand, are tuned to wavelengths that are readily absorbed by watery materials. (Gums and the mucosal lining of the mouth contain lots of water!)