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Laser Use in Dentistry

Lasers have been used in dentistry since 1995 to treat a number of dental problems. But, despite FDA approval, no laser system has received the American Dental Association’s Seal of Acceptance, which assures dentists that the product or device meets ADA standards of safety and efficacy, among other things. The ADA, however, states that it is cautiously optimistic about the role of laser technology in the field of dentistry.

Still, some dentists are using lasers in the following situations:

  • Tooth decay: Lasers are used to remove decay within a tooth and prepare the surrounding enamel for receipt of the filling. Lasers are also used to "cure" or harden a filling.
  • Gum disease: Lasers are used to reshape gums and remove bacteria during root canal procedures.
  • Biopsy or lesion removal: Lasers can be used to remove a small piece of tissue (called a biopsy) and send it for testing to determine if it is cancerous; to remove lesions in the mouth; and relieve the pain of canker sores.
  • Teeth whitening: Lasers are used to speed up the in-office teeth whitening procedures. A peroxide bleaching solution, applied to the tooth surface, is "activated" by laser energy, which speeds up the whitening process.

How do lasers work?

All lasers work by delivering energy in the form of light. When used for surgical procedures, the laser acts as a cutting instrument or a vaporizer of tissue that it comes in contact with. When used for "curing" a filling, the laser helps to strengthen the bond between the filling and the tooth. When used in teeth whitening procedures, the laser acts as a heat source and enhances the effect of tooth-bleaching agents.

What are the pros and cons of using laser over the traditional dental drill?

Pros

Compared with the traditional dental drill, lasers:

  • May cause less pain in some instances, therefore reducing the need for anesthesia
  • May reduce anxiety in patients uncomfortable with the use of the dental drill
  • Minimize bleeding and swelling during soft tissue treatments
  • May preserve more healthy tooth during cavity treatment
Cons

The disadvantages of lasers are that:

  • Lasers can’t be used on teeth with fillings that are already in place.
  • Lasers can't be used in many commonly performed dental procedures. For example, lasers can't be used to fill cavities located between teeth, cavities around old fillings, and large cavities that need to be prepared for a crown, nor can they be used to remove defective crowns or silver fillings, or prepare teeth for bridges.
  • Traditional drills may still be needed to shape the filling, adjust the bite, and polish the filling even when a laser is used.
  • Lasers do not eliminate the need for anesthesia.
  • Laser treatment tends to be more expensive since the cost of the laser is much higher than a dental drill.

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This information is provided by the Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: 12/19/2006...#10908