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Dental lasers are innovative tools used in advanced dental practices. Dentists have been using lasers in their practices since 1994, although dental lasers are more widely used today.
LASER is an acronym that stands for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. In short, lasers use the energy of light to create a very narrow beam of radiation that can cut through a variety of substances. Lasers can be powerful enough to cut through diamond or thick metal, for example, or be delicate enough to trim and reshape soft tissue.
Laser devices emit light energy in a narrow, concentrated beam that offers the ultimate in precision and control. Light travels in measurable waves. Scientists measure the distance between waves, or wavelengths, in terms of nanometers (nm). Visible light has wavelengths in the range of 400–700 nm. Infrared light is invisible to the naked eye, and has much longer wavelengths, measuring 700 nm to 1 millimeter.
There are two main types of dental lasers: hard tissue lasers and soft tissue lasers. Hard tissue layers are capable of preparing various layers of teeth, including the enamel, dentin, cementum and bone. Dentists use hard tissue lasers to cut teeth and other hard tissues in the mouth. Dentists use soft tissue lasers for procedures involving the gums and other soft tissue within the oral cavity.
Types of Hard Tissue and Soft Tissue Lasers
Erbium lasers are a type of hard tissue laser. There are two types of erbium lasers used in dentistry, classified by the type of crystal that powers the lasers and the laser’s wavelength. One uses a yttrium aluminum garnet crystal (Er:YAG), which emits a 2940 nm laser. It penetrates about 7 micrometers in enamel and 5 micrometers in dentin.
The other uses a yttrium scandium gallium garnet (Er,Cr:YSGG), which emits a 2780 nm laser. This dental laser penetrates 21 micrometers in enamel and 15 micrometers in dentine.
Carbon Dioxide Lasers
Carbon dioxide (CO2) lasers are great for removing soft tissue quickly. CO2 lasers emit an invisible beam of infrared light with a wavelength of 10,600 nm. This wavelength allows for minimal tissue penetration, which shortens procedure times.
On the downside, CO2 lasers can cause hard tissue damage. The equipment may also be expensive, so these lasers may not be available at all dental practices.
A diode laser is a type of soft tissue laser that works in a manner similar to laser pointers. These lasers are affordable and compact in size, which makes them a great addition to any dental practice. This type of laser is made of gallium, aluminum, and arsenic that create wavelengths measuring 810 nm.
Dentists often use diode lasers for laser teeth whitening, making dental impressions, removing or reshaping gum tissue, and other dental procedures.
Dentists Use Lasers for a Wide Variety of Soft Tissue and Hard Tissue Procedures
Soft Tissue Procedures
Dentists use lasers for a number of soft tissue procedures, including:
“Gummy smile” treatment
Having extra gum tissue surrounding your upper teeth can create a “gummy smile.” Dentists use soft tissue lasers to remove excess gum tissue and expose more of the tooth’s surface to create a “toothy smile.”
Also known as gum reshaping or gum contouring, a gingivectomy is a cosmetic dental procedure in which a dentist removes soft gum tissue to reshape the gumline. Dentists once used scalpels to perform gingivectomy, but many now use lasers for improved aesthetic results.
Dental crown lengthening
Certain dental restorations, such as a crown or implant, require a minimum amount of exposed tooth enamel to hold the restoration. In this procedure, your dentist reshapes the gum tissue to expose more of the healthy tooth structure.
Removal of soft tissue folds
Poorly-fitting dentures can slip and slide – the constant movement and rubbing of poorly-fitting dentures can also cause soft tissue folds that make the fit of dentures even worse. Traditional treatment involved cutting away these soft tissue folds with a scalpel. Lasers provide a stitch-free and less painful option for removing soft tissue folds.
Gum disease treatment
Left untreated, gum disease can cause pain, tenderness, inflammation, and even tooth loss. Inflammation can cause the development of pockets, or empty spaces, between teeth and gums. The plaque and bacteria that cause gum disease can get inside these pockets to cause infection at the tooth roots. Gum surgery is often necessary to save teeth, and to prevent further damage from gum disease.
Laser dentistry can help patients avoid the need for gum surgery by treating the problem early. Dentists can use lasers to painlessly sterilize the deep pockets, thereby eliminating the bacteria that cause gum disease. Laser treatment can also reduce any inflammation associated with gum disease.
The frenulum is a small piece of tissue that connects other tissues. The lingual frenulum, or lip frenulum, is that small piece of skin at the front of your upper jaw that connects your upper lip to your gums. This frenulum can pull at your gums – excessive pulling can cause your gums to pull up and away from your two front teeth. The frenulum can also cause gaps between the two front teeth by preventing the teeth from coming together. Dentists perform laser frenectomy to relieve the excess pulling and even remove gaps between teeth.
Hard Tissue Procedures
Tooth decay treatment
Lasers can remove bacteria that cause tooth decay. Dentists can also use hard tissue lasers to remove cavities, without the use of traditional drilling tools and methods.
Thin enamel and cavities can cause tooth sensitivity. Dentists can use lasers to seal the tiny tubes that lead from the surface of the tooth to its root, thereby reducing sensitivity.
Root canal treatment
Root canal treatment involves removing infected tissue from the root canal deep inside the tooth, and then cleaning, sterilizing, shaping and filling the canal. Dentists traditionally use a set of tools to drill and scrape the tooth, but many now perform laser-assisted root canal therapy.
Benefits of Using Dental Lasers
Hard tissue lasers can reduce or eliminate vibrations, the audible whine of dental drills, which can alleviate some of the discomfort or apprehensions that many patients have.
Using lasers instead of high-speed dental tools can also reduce the need for anesthesia. Lasers inflict less trauma on teeth, so recovery time after laser dental work is often shorter.
For more information about dental lasers and their uses, contact the dental team at Westerville Dental Associates.