Laser therapy is a common practice in the medical world, especially when it comes to Lasik procedures to correct near- and far-sightedness; and skin, for cosmetic purposes.
Perhaps not as common, though, is laser dentistry, with procedures that are replacing the conventional tools of the trade in an aim to prevent damage to the soft tissues surrounding the teeth, and in some cases to improve overall gum health. Right now, according to the Consumer Guide to Laser Dentistry, about 6 percent of general dentists own a laser for procedures -- and that number is expected to increase over time.
The guide said that dentists use the procedure because it can be a more precise and effective way to perform procedures. Plus, the guide said, anxious patients tend to find the experience more comforting than traditional means. When a dentist uses a laser on soft tissues, stitches may not be required.
Other benefits of laser dentistry, according to the guide, include minimized bleeding because the high-energy beam aids in the clotting of blood vessels. The high-energy beam also minimizes the chance of bacterial infections because the laser sterilizes the affected area. Wounds also heal faster, the guide said, and the damage to surrounding tissue is minimized.
And if you like to be aware of your dental procedures as they are happening, the guide said that laser dentistry procedures do not require anesthesia.
With the advent of laser dentistry, the guide said that practice has opened up the opportunities to perform procedures not possible before. In procedures involving teeth, a laser can be used as an early detection tool for tooth decay, as well as help seal tubules to prevent hot and cold tooth sensitivity.
And while the guide suggested that laser therapy is not recommended for work involving amalgam fillings, onlays or crowns, a hard tissue dental laser may eliminate local anesthetics and the traditional drilling used to repair teeth with cavities.
There are several benefits to using laser dentistry when it comes to improvement of soft tissues, according to the guide, including crown-lengthening procedures. A dental laser can help reshape soft gum tissue and bone tissue to create a healthier tooth structure. The reshaping of such tissue can also reduce the appearance of what is deemed a "gummy smile."
The practice can also benefit patients with dentures, according to the guide, as dental lasers can aid in the removal of soft tissue folds that are brought on by ill-fitting dentures.
While the practice is specifically used for teeth and soft tissue procedures, the guide said that laser dentistry can aid in the painless removal of benign tumors from the gums, palate, sides of cheeks and lips; reduce pain in cold sores; and speed up the bleaching process used to whiten teeth.
The guide added that dental lasers can also be used to help treat pain and inflammation in the temporomandibular jaw joint (frequently referred to as TMJ); and assist in the removal of overgrown tissue in areas of the throat that can contribute to sleep apnea.