Laser (Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation) dentistry is a new dental technique that offers an accurate and effective way to execute many dental procedures. It requires the ability of the dentist to regulate power output and the extent of exposure on gum tissue or tooth structure. Laser dentistry allows dentists to target a highly specific area to be treated without causing damage to surrounding tissues.

The percentage of general dentists who use dental lasers for soft-tissue procedures is estimated at six percent, with that number expected to increase over time. Laser dentistry is especially helpful for people who are anxious in the dentist’s office and want a higher degree of safety and comfort. Laser dentistry offers a way to minimize pain and improve recovery time.

Benefits of Laser Dentistry

Besides minimizing damage to surrounding tissues and improving recovery time, there are several other major benefits associated with laser dentistry. Use of dental lasers reduces the need for sutures, and for some procedures, eliminates the need for anesthesia. The high-energy light beam facilitates the clotting of exposed blood vessels, reducing bleeding of tissue. It also sterilizes the area of the mouth being worked on and minimizes the risk of bacterial infections.

Applications of Laser Dentistry

Dental lasers may be used during a regular dental cleaning to remove tartar. As technology advances, dental lasers may eventually allow dentists to access any part of a tooth, taking the place of the traditional dental drill.
The applications for this technology are expanding and dentists may be able perform a variety of dental procedures they otherwise could not do. Laser dentistry may be applied to procedures involving both hard and soft tissues.

Hard Tissue Laser Dentistry Procedures

  • Cavity Detector: By detecting some of the by-products of tooth decay, low-intensity soft tissue dental lasers may be used to identify cavities early on.
  • Dental Fillings/Tooth Preparation: The application of hard tissue dental lasers in some procedures may mean that the traditional use of a local anesthetic injection and a turbine dental drill are not needed. Dental filling procedures that make use of lasers may possibly extend the longevity of tooth restorations, due to the role of the laser beam in killing bacteria located in a cavity. However, dental lasers are not suitable for the replacement of amalgam fillings, crowns, or onlays.
  • Tooth sensitivity: Dental lasers may reduce the sensitivity of teeth to temperature, by sealing the tubules found on the root of the tooth.

Soft Tissue Laser Dentistry Procedures

  • Crown Lengthening: Dental lasers can help in crown lengthening, a process by which gum tissue and bone are reshaped to render healthy tooth structure available for placement of bridges or crowns.
  • Gummy Smile: Dental lasers can refashion gum tissue to reveal healthy tooth structure and enhance the appearance of a gummy smile.
  • Muscle Attachment (Frenula): A laser frenectomy is a procedure that removes the frenulum, the fold of tissue or muscle that connects the lips, cheek, or tongue to the jawbone. The procedure may help children who are tongue tied and babies having trouble breastfeeding due to limited tongue movement. A laser frenectomy may also aid in eliminating speech impediments.
  • Soft Tissue Folds (Epulis): Dental lasers may remove soft tissue folds often caused by ill-fitting dentures, in a procedure that is painless and does not require sutures.

Types of Dental Lasers

Many types of hard and soft tissue lasers have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for application in the dental treatment of adults and children. Due to their unique absorption characteristics, dental lasers are used to perform specific dental procedures.

Hard Tissue Lasers

Hard tissue lasers such as the Erbium YAG and the Erbium chromium YSGG have a wavelength that promotes efficiency with cutting through the structure of the tooth. This is due to their property of being highly absorbable by hydroxyapatite (calcium phosphate salt found in bone and teeth) and water.

Hard tissue lasers are used mainly to cut into bone and teeth with exact precision. Dentists may use them in preparing teeth for composite bonding, repairing worn dental fillings, and removing small amounts of tooth structure.

Soft Tissue Lasers

Soft tissue lasers have a wavelength that is highly absorbable by water and hemoglobin (oxygenating protein in red blood cells). This causes them to be greatly effective in soft tissue management. Neodymium YAG (Nd:YAG) and diode lasers are common soft tissue lasers used in periodontal treatment. They have the benefit of killing bacteria and stimulating the re-growth of tissues. Compared to the fiber optic method, the carbon dioxide laser removes tissue faster and minimizes damage to surrounding tissue.

Because soft tissue lasers seal blood vessels and nerve endings in the soft tissue, most people do not experience pain following the use of a laser. In addition, soft tissue lasers reduce healing time for tissues.

Other Lasers

Some types of dental laser technology allow the dentist to generate both hard and soft tissue laser energy, according to the treatment required. In addition to hard and soft tissue lasers, other laser types are specially designed for viewing the insides of teeth and cells using a non-invasive imaging technique called Optical Coherence Tomography. There are other lasers that simulate the body’s natural ability to use light spectrums to heal damaged cells.

Other Laser Dentistry Applications

  • Teeth Whitening: Low intensity soft tissue dental lasers may help to expedite the bleaching process in teeth whitening treatment.
  • Viewing Tooth and Gum Tissues: Optical Coherence Tomography provides a safer method of looking inside teeth and gums in real time.
  • Temporomandibular Joint Treatment: Dental lasers may be used to quickly diminish pain and inflammation of the temporomandibular jaw joint.
  • Nerve Regeneration: Photobiomodulation can be used in the regeneration of damaged nerves, scars, and blood vessels.
  • Sleep Apnea: Sleep Apnea may be caused by tissue overgrowth in areas of the throat. A laser assisted uvuloplasty or uvula palatoplasty (LAUP) procedure can be completed to remove tissue in the throat and alleviate the breathing problems related to sleep apnea.
  • Benign Tumors: Dental lasers may be used to remove benign tumors from the palate, gums, lips, and sides of the cheeks, in a painless procedure that does not require sutures.
  • Cold Sores: Low intensity dental lasers may decrease pain connected to cold sores and reduce healing time.

The Academy of Laser Dentistry can provide more information about the types and benefits of procedures performed in laser dentistry.