Public Release: 

Cutting with light

More dentists, patients see benefit of lasers

Academy of General Dentistry

Until recently, the use of lasers in the dental office was marginalized because of the cost of the equipment and its limited use. Today, manufacturers and dentists believe "cutting with light" will gain a much wider appeal thanks to recent technological leaps and declining costs, according to the August/September 2003 issue of AGD Impact, the monthly newsmagazine of the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD).

Not a day goes by that I don't use it," Christopher J. Walinski, DDS, a Massachusetts-based laser dentist, says in the Impact article. "We have patients coming in who want to be treated with the laser. I'm the guy with the laser."

Lasers debuted in health care in the 1960s. They made their way into dentistry in the early 1990s. About 5 percent of U.S. practitioners use lasers.

"Basically new technology is the appeal for patients," says Eric Shapira, DDS, MAGD, spokesperson for the AGD. "Patients look for ease of having procedures done without major discomfort."

In addition to the number of soft- and hard-tissue procedures applicable to lasers, advocates say faster healing, improved infection control, reduced postoperative pain and sensitivity, reduced patient anxiety and less need for anesthesia or injections are advantages of the laser.

"Many procedures work without giving an injection, which is less stressful for dentists and patients," says Robert A. Convissar, DDS, FAGD, co-author of a report that will be published in the September/October 2003 issue of General Dentistry, the AGD's clinical, peer-reviewed journal.

The laser industry, as it pertains to dentistry, is expected to grow. According to some manufacturers, lasers may soon be developed for removal, preventive cavities detection and using different wavelength to vaporize cavities beneath the tooth surface.

Laser Facts

  • "Laser" is an acronym for light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.
  • A laser is an intense beam of monochromatic light used to do everything from "reading" compact discs to performing surgical operations.
  • Soft-tissue lasers work only on soft tissue, such as gums. Hard-tissue lasers work on tooth and bone.
  • The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has cleared five types of lasers for dental use: the carbon dioxide (CO2) laser, the Neodymium-Yttrium-Aluminum-Garnet (Nd:YAG) laser, the semiconductor diode laser and the erbium series of lasers, the Ebrium-Yttrium-Aluminum-Garnet (Er:YAG) and the Erbium-Chromium-Yttrium-Scallium-Gallium-Garnet (Er,Cr:YSGG).
  • CO2 and Nd:YAG lasers are used for soft tissue procedures, such as lesion removal and frenectomies.
  • Semiconductor diode lasers also perform many of the soft-tissue procedures of those lasers, in addition to bleaching.
  • Erbium lasers work well on soft tissue, but their unique contribution to high-tech dentistry is their ability to perform hard tissue procedures, including cavity removal and root canals.

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