Stars Wars dentistry is now! Dentists wield light sabers!
Without getting carried away, the future of dental care is truly available now.
Dentistry has been a little slow in catching up to medicine in the use of lasers, but that has more to do with the technology than the willingness to use them. Lasers are used in various capacities: diagnostics, curing resin filling material, soft tissue and hard tissue care.
Diagnostically, a laser beam is shone on a tooth’s surface and the reflected light is measured by a sensor. The change in the reflected beam is an indication of the presence of decay. More accurately, it is a measure of the coloured pigments caused by the bacteria responsible for the infection of the tooth and the decay. Several manufacturers have decay detecting units in the marketplace. These are used to determine whether cavities are present and whether they should be actively treated with fillings or observed with remineralization therapies.
Most restorative (fillings, etc.) used in dentistry today involve some type of light cured adhesive and composite resin. These materials are tooth coloured. To set these materials light curing is the initiator. Many types of lights are available. One of the first laser applications in dentistry was as a curing light.
Diode lasers have found a niche in soft tissue care. This ranges from use as a scalpel to photoactivated disinfection, tooth scaling and treating canker and cold sores. A developing use is in the treatment of tissue inflammation as in jaw joint pain and ulcers. Laser irradiation speeds healing. These lasers are referred to as cold lasers as they do not damage or ablate (vapourize) the tissue.
Hard tissue lasers may be used to replace drills in removing decay and old composite fillings. They are useful for any treatment in which a drill would be used. Besides fillings, sculpting bone and sectioning teeth that are being removed are some of the applications. They also have the same soft tissue shaping abilities as diodes. The most impressive feature is the fact that a lot of treatment may be done without local anesthetic that is no needles!
The target tissues determine what type of laser light may be used, so it should not be surprising that one instrument does not do it all. Yet, the benefits of laser dental care are many. To list a few: more conservative care with reproducible scans, disinfection of tissues, rapid healing, minimal or no use of drills and treatment without local or minimal anesthetics.