Dental Office Technology
Is a dental laser needed to perform quality dentistry?
In 1997, the Food and Drug Administration approved laser use in dental hard tissues (teeth) for treatment of cavities. Different types of lasers had been used in dental applications since 1991 for soft tissues procedures. Lasers are currently approved for use in both adults and children. Until recently, dental lasers have not been widely used because of their high cost and limited applications. Today, however, they are being used for everything from cavity preparation and root canals to gingival and periodontal surgery and whitening teeth.
The dental lasers available today include the following:
Each laser typically produces a single wavelength, though some can now be adjusted to provide a variety of wavelengths. Based on the absorption characteristics of each wavelength in dental tissue, different reactions occur. Therefore some lasers are more effective for cutting hard tissue, while others are more effective for curing and others for soft tissue procedures.
Vendors, manufacturers, and other laser proponents report many advantages to the use of dental lasers, including the following:
These purported advantages have not been adequately demonstrated in well designed, controlled clinical trails. Additionally, lasers will never completely eliminate the need to drill or to use local anesthetic to numb an area of the mouth. Some procedures take too long with lasers, and many dentists still feel more comfortable performing involved procedures, like root canals, with traditional tools. Lasers are also not usually used to remove metal fillings, since they can heat up the metal to temperatures that are both painful and injurious to the tooth. Other disadvantages include very high initial cost (up to $60,000 for some units) and the fact that Medicaid does not reimburse at a higher rate for procedures performed with lasers.