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					     Shedding Light on
     This emerging technology offers dentists
     a tool that can help reduce pain, speed
     healing and improve surgical accuracy

                          lasers have not yet made their way into
                          most dentists’ offices, but this revolutionary
                          technology may aid future treatments for your
                          teeth or gums.
                             Using lasers, dentists may be able to remove
                          small cavities with no drilling or anesthesia.
                          They can finish procedures with more precision
                          and speed, reduce swelling and healing times,
                          and help cut down on bacteria. Lasers can
                          reduce the need for stitches and control bleed-
                          ing during surgery. They can even enhance
                          tooth whitening.
                             “It’s a phenomenal surgical tool,” says         tissues. For example, lasers may help a dentist
                          Robert M. Pick, D.D.S., a spokesman for the        fix speech problems caused by tissue that pre-
                          American Dental Association and co-author of       vents free movement of the tongue. Lasers can
                          the book Lasers in Dentistry. “Another powerful    uncover wisdom teeth that have emerged only
                          psychological advantage is that, without any       partway. They can help remove decay from a
                          noise such as a whirring drill, lasers make pro-   cavity to prepare the tooth for a new filling.
                          cedures that can be traumatic for many patients    They can remove inflamed gum tissues and
                          completely un-traumatic.”                          reduce the amount of bacteria in a periodontal
                             Dentists can use lasers for a wide range        pocket (the unhealthy gap that forms between a
                          of surgical procedures on certain hard or soft     tooth and diseased gums).
                                                                                 There are two basic types of dental lasers:
                                                                             those that cut hard tissue, such as bone or teeth,

     Lasers will finish procedures                                           and those used for soft tissue, such as gums.
                                                                             “Studies have shown that lasers can cut soft
     with more precision and speed,                                          tissue more accurately and painlessly than a
                                                                             scalpel in elective surgery,” says David Tecosky,
     reduce swelling and healing                                             D.M.D., a spokesman for the Academy of Gen-
     times, and help cut down on                                             eral Dentistry. “Very often, but not in all cases,
                                                                             hard-tissue lasers can cut tooth structure with-
     bacteria.                                                               out anesthesia.”

12   healthysmile   n   Q2—2009
                                           dental uses for lasers
                                           according to the academy of general dentistry, lasers can be used to:
                                           n   correct speech problems caused by a tongue-tie, which prevents
                                               normal tongue movement
                                           n   Uncover wisdom teeth that have emerged only partway
                                           n   remove decay from cavities and prepare teeth for new fillings
                                           n   remove muscle pulls seen in orthodontic patients
                                           n   manage gum tissue while making impressions for crowns
                                           n   remove swollen tissues caused by medications
                                           n   perform biopsies (the removal of tissue for examination)
                                           n   remove inflamed gum tissues and reduce bacteria in
                                               periodontal pockets
                                           n   remove or reshape excess gum and bone tissues during
                                               crown-lengthening procedures
                                           n   treat abscessed gums and infections in root canals
                                           n   reduce the discomfort of canker and cold sores
                                           n   activate whitening agents that are used to lighten teeth

    With teeth, says Dr. Tecosky, the    enhance speech, chewing and nor-             If you undergo a laser treatment,
most common use of lasers today is       mal tooth positioning.                   you, your dentist and the dental staff
removing tooth decay to prepare              Dr. Pick uses a laser to remove      will wear special glasses to protect
the tooth for a new filling. Lasers      tissue linking the upper lips to the     the eyes.
work best on small cavities,             front of the mouth that can cause a          Future dental laser uses, the den-
Dr. Pick adds.                           gap between the upper front teeth.       tists say, may include early detection
    For five years, Dr. Tecosky has      According to research he is prepar-      of cavities. Lasers also may help pre-
used a laser for some soft tissue pro-   ing, none of the 500 young patients      pare patients for a dental crown. As
cedures. They include cauterizing        undergoing this laser procedure          the laser pares down the diseased
ulcers, preparing the gums before        required pain medication afterward.      tooth, a special camera would take
removing a cavity at the gum line,       Only 27 percent of the 250 young         an electronic impression of the
reshaping overgrown gums and             patients whose “tied” tongues were       tooth’s shape so an identical crown
removing debris and bacteria in          freed required pain medication the       could be made in a dental lab.
inflamed periodontal pockets.            evening after the procedure.                 Many dental schools and
    Dr. Tecosky uses his laser to            Use of the laser reduces bleeding    associations offer dental laser edu-
treat children who are literally         during surgery, adds Dr. Pick, “so       cation. The Academy of Laser
“tongue-tied.” By cutting the tissue     you can see what you’re doing with-      Dentistry is the profession’s inde-
that runs from the base of the           out having to have the area suc-         pendent source for dental laser
tongue to the lower front teeth, he      tioned. That significantly reduces the   education and credentialing. n
improves tongue movement to              time the patient spends in surgery.”

                                                                                                 Q2—2009   n   healthysmile   13

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