Posted: August 14th, 2013
Laser Uses in Dentistry
Laser Uses in Dentistry
The application of laser technology in the medical sector has become widespread due to its convenience in performing diverse diagnostics. Laser technology has constantly improved over the last five decades since it was launched for public use. The medical sector has also witnessed a lot of diversification in the past years with new medical practices being adopted. Specialized laser technologies have been employed to offer practical solutions for most of these medical complications. In dentistry, laser technology has been employed since 1994 to take care of several types of dental issues. Several variations of dental laser are currently used, with the most ordinary being carbon dioxide lasers, diode lasers, and yttrium aluminum laser. The main difference between these lasers is their varying wavelengths and this difference has an implication on the type of dental issue it can safely remedy. Gas lasers are made of CO2 that makes them useful for treating benign conditions by extracting the tumors through the skin. Diode lasers are better suited for soft-tissue treatment for example hair removal and aging treatment. Lastly, there are solid-state lasers and liquid lasers (Sliney, 2012).
All dental laser technology operates by transmitting energy in the form of light. When applied in dental and surgical procedures, the laser is used as a vaporizer or a cutting device that separates any body tissue that it is directed. The significant medical laser instruments include of a source of electricity mirrors to reflect the laser beam, gas or crystals that are triggered to produce the light and tubing that transmits the light energy. The type of material used to disseminate the light passing through the tube determines the precise properties of the laser and typically, what kind of treatment it can perform on different body parts. While the design of different laser devices is centered on their purpose, most dental lasers are normally shaped in a long and narrow fashion to facilitate maneuvering around the tight corners of a patient’s mouth. The initial medical lasers applications were founded in dermatology and ophthalmology. Some of the first laser experiments were used to remove melanomas and birthmarks from the skin. Currently, lasers are extensively applied in skin rectification surgeries to treat and remove tattoos, tumors, birthmarks and excess body hair (Rechmann, 2007). However, in reality, dentistry makes use of several different lasers at once (Becker & Whyte, 2006).
This massive technological development has inevitably made it quite attractive to profitable investors mainly because of the big revenue possibilities. A glimpse of this potential was exposed by a study done by Medtech Insight that approximated that the energy-based aesthetic devices market would be valued at about $1 billion by 2010. In spite of a drop, in general demand for medical laser technology that was caused by the recession, laser-based sectors have witnessed a stable and regular usage in the United States. Cosmetic surgery emerged as the most profitable area in commercial laser application. However, medical practitioners have also discovered the benefits of early cancer detection using laser devices (Aguilar, 2013).
Benefits of Laser Technology in Dentistry
Dental technology has made steady progress over time and this availed newer dental care approaches such as performing state-of-the-art treatments that was not the case in earlier attempts. Lasers are increasingly playing a central role in providing advanced dental care. There are several advantages and benefits of using laser technology in the treatments administered by dentists (Esposito et al, 2006). A major advantage of laser dentistry is improved care. Dental lasers have several features that allow them to provide healthier treatments for teeth when compared to drills (Coluzzi & Convissar, 2007). A dental laser is more resourceful and quicker compared to a drill. The patient may not have to experience discomfort or pain that is common when using manual drills. Laser dentistry in itself is also less susceptible to oral bacteria that may inhabit the machinery and equipment used in the surgery presenting a safer working environment. Laser treatments on the teeth and gums also produce less damage to the sensitive mouth tissues and this is influential in reducing the time for healing. Therefore, in conclusion, laser dental procedures are safer, easier to use and less troublesome on the patient (Johnson & Berner, 2010).
The issue of safety is another major benefit that sets laser dentistry apart from the other applications of laser technology. The two major authorities on scientific and medical use of lasers in the United States, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have the final jurisdiction over which types of laser devices are cleared for use in the American market depending on whether they meet the safety and market standards. Most types of laser devices have been certified by these two bodies as being safe for use on human beings (Gibson, 2005). Their recommendation was backed by the detailed laser education that was administered to all stakeholders using laser technology in their establishments. For instance, the FDA demands that all laser medical devices be installed with several controls such as emergency stops cover guards and diagnostics for their software. Similarly, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) proposes several administrative controls for laser devices (Slevin, 2012). ANSI administrative regulations address the competence among laser professionals, assessment of hazards and other protocols. Several supervisory and monitoring bodies ensure that the safety of laser devices is upheld making them very reliable (Lundberg et al, 2007).
Laser dentistry has a major benefit in that it enhances both soft and hard tissue treatments. The laser technology operates by vaporizing foreign soft or hard tissue from the mouth and in the process, coagulating the tissue. This induced coagulation is the main reason why most laser procedures are usually bloodless. Treating patients with laser technology also lowers the inflammatory reactions that boost healing of teeth and gums (Smith & Cagnoni, 2010). Combined with the bactericidal effect in the lasers, surgery using this advanced technique offers the most comfort and avoids exposure to contaminated instruments, disinfectants and other harmful substances. Patients may not even need sutures and antibiotics after the surgery is complete (Calamia et al, 2007). The advantage of being in control of the hemostasis process allows the scheduled performance of hard tissue procedures such as digital impressions and subgingival restorations. The ability to perform several procedures in one session makes it very suitable for patients as they schedule fewer appointments and highly convenient for medical staff to be more efficient and profitable in delivering dental care (King, 2008).
Laser dentistry enjoys the advantage of accurate diagnosis that may be lacking in the conventional methods of treating dental problems. New devices, tools, and materials have made curative dentistry well organized, esthetic, less invasive, and pleasant to practice. On the diagnostic aspect, the dentistry profession has experienced various changes in the inspection, determination and treatment of diseases (Srinivas & Kumaresan, 2011). Scientific literature has proved that preparing and correcting cavity and other dental issues weakens teeth and exposes them to other complications. Therefore, early and precise discovery of decay is necessary to avoid future dental problems (Edwards et al, 2006). Conventional methods such as radiographs and visual inspections that were the main techniques were discovered to be ineffective and inaccurate as they were based on the dentist’s judgment (Dekhtyar et al, 2013). This judgment is normally determined by the lighting conditions, the subjective discernment of the physician and the magnification. However, the introduction of laser technology developed its use as an adjunctive diagnostic aid (Vila et al, 2009). Using laser devices, the bacteria organisms are easily visible through infrared light. Therefore, more decay can be observed and lesser damage can be done during inspection. Additionally, the laser diagnosis process also results in early diagnosis and lesser costs for the patient (Olivi et al, 2011).
Disadvantages of Laser Technology in Dentistry
While numerous standards and policies regarding laser safety have been enforced, there are still high instances of laser injuries being reported annually. Laser safety experts approximated that the projection of the actual number of injuries was far larger than that provided by different sources (Kishen & Asundi, 2007). Without doubt, more accidents occurred annually that were not reported with the relevant federal agencies. An assessment of these accidents revealed that failure to adorn the necessary protection equipment was one of the most common contributing factors to laser accidents. While the acquisition and application of lasers in dentistry continues to develop, the concern for laser safety has largely been ignored (Spekowius & Wendler, 2006).
It is imperative to understand that dental lasers operate on the basic principle of transmitting light rays that may damage the eyes (Scardina, 2011). Contrary to the common belief that closing or averting one’s eyes away from the rays would protect from the beam, it has been discovered that these actions do not protect an individuals’ eyesight from being damaged mainly because these rays are easily reflected off mirrors, glass, and other shiny objects (Deyo & Patrick, 2005). Laser operators are therefore unknowingly exposed to large amounts of radiation that increases their risk of cancer (Pirnat et al, 2011). Patients are also exposed to the same radiation rays that may trigger new health issues in their bodies (Sroka et al, 2011). While laser dentistry has been praised for being efficient and less damaging to mouth sift tissue, there are specific cases where laser technology cannot be applied. In the case where a patient has a cavity between two teeth, laser dentistry is inapplicable and a dentist would have to resort to the drill and other conventional devices and techniques (Wallace, 2011). Performing a cavity-cleaning process can be done with a laser but it may also need to be complimented with a drill (Franzen, 2011). Apart from regular teeth maintenance, laser technology is inadmissible for filling or clearing cavities filled with silver. This is because the massive heat from the laser would melt and vaporize the mercury thereby contaminating the patient’s blood and mouth (Ananthi, 2005).
The financial implications imposed by laser dental care are by far the most significant drawback toward affordable and accessible dental care (Jacobsen et al, 2011). While proponents of this advanced technology argue that, the laser treatments are not only curative but also preventive and protective in nature (Moritz & Beer, 2006). The treatment in most laser dental centers targets full body restoration and not just getting rid of a problematic tooth (Mycek & Mycek, 2005). The latest technology is used in diagnostics and treatment and this drives up the cost of providing dental care significantly (Parker, 2007). An average bill from a dentists’ shop is a clear indication of the exorbitant prices charged by the dental professionals with prices ranging from $1200 to $1800 for gum lifting (Riordan-Eva et al, 2011). Hard-tissue procedures are even more expensive and range from $40,000 to about $60,000 (Twetman et al, 2012). These prices cannot be afforded by most of the low-income earners who end up having to live with poor dental health (Fornaini et al, 2009). Most middle-income individuals still delayed their dentist sessions mainly due to the seeming high costs. The British Dental Association released statistics that most patients cancelled their appointments due to their poor economic status (Johar, 2011).
While the laser dentistry may seem a luxury, it is evident that taking great care of the dental condition increases the overall health status of an individual. Canceling dental appointments because of monetary reasons, almost results in the dental demands becoming more costly as the conditions worsen within the tooth or the issue becomes more complicated. A small filling that is ignored would eventually need a root canal and a crown to protect the tooth from further disintegration.
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