The laser, the tool of modern dentistry
To the general public, lasers mean high technology and progress.
Still rarely used by dentists today, mainly due to their price, lasers present
real advantages compared to traditional techniques, without replacing them completely, as sometimes traditional methods are more advantageous.
The first dental lasers appeared in the 1980's, but they really began to develop properly at the start of the millennium, with the launch of less painful and more effective, new generation lasers.
A laser is an electro-optic device which is designed to produce one or more specific wavelengths of light (and single colors if emitted wavelengths are located in the visible light spectrum). This light beam concentrates a high quantity of energy acts as a "light scalpel" (cutting soft tissues, pulverizing caries…) after absorption by the water of the human body tissues. The degree of a tissue light beam absorption depends on the wavelength used and on the quantity of water contained in the targeted tissue. The energy is transmitted to tissue either through a flexible optical fiber or through an articulated arm.
Dental lasers are not too aggressive and over powerful like lasers seen in the movies. These lasers are actually calibrated, so they basically remove selective tissue in an ultra conservative way, leaving the patient feeling very comfortable after the procedure and leaving the clinician with superior clinical and predictable results.
There are multiple uses for dental lasers: conservative dentistry (ex: treatment of caries), periodontal (ex: non surgical treatment of periodontal pockets), soft tissue surgery (ex: excision of benign lesions), endodontics (ex: treatment of the dental root canals), implantology (ex: exposure of implants covered by the gum) and cosmetic dentistry.
There are two types of dental lasers: all-tissue lasers allowing to treat both soft tissues (gum, mucous membranes or tongue) and hard tissues (enamel, dentin, bones or caries), and soft tissues only lasers. The effects on tissues can vary according to laser's features and the treatment parameters used. Only some of the latest generation of dental lasers are classed as ‘versatile’, in that they can effectively work on both hard and soft tissue types.
In Europe, it is considered that lasers are used by less than 5 % of the dentists. The countries which mostly use versatile dental lasers are Germany and Italy. Few dentists are known to use lasers in the United Kingdom, but this is currently changing with the development of the private dental practice sector.
Whilst using dental lasers, safety glasses are compulsory, for both the patient and the dental surgeon.