The use of laser technology for dental treatments has become more prevalent during the last decade – with estimates that at least one in four dentists are using laser therapies to treat patients for a wide range of dental conditions. Lasers have a significant role in the delivery of high quality dental care, and allow dentists to optimize patient comfort, while reducing recovery times and lowering the risk of infection. Now, researchers at the New York Institute of Technology have found another benefit to laser therapy – using it for oral debridement.
In a recent study published in Lasers in Surgery and Medicine, NYIT researchers were able to show the value of the use of lasers to treat periodontal infections. By using virtual simulation, scientists were able to demonstrate the ability of lasers of varying wavelengths to reach new depths below the gum line. This is extremely beneficial for the treatment and destruction of bacterial colonies that take up residence below the gum line. This demonstration shows the advantage of using lasers versus traditional tools, like those used during traditional below gum line cleanings, also known as scaling. Scaling, along with root planning, is a traditional dental therapy used frequently to treat receding gums that have been caused by gingivitis.
Gingivitis is the initial stage of gum disease. It is characterized by redness, swelling, bleeding and inflammation. Gingivitis is caused by the buildup of dental plaque, a sticky, colorless film that forms on the teeth. Plaque is home to millions of strains of bacteria.
Plaque can be brushed and flossed away as a part of regular daily oral hygiene. When patients skip brushing and flossing, or brush improperly, the bacteria found in plaque begin to take root and flourish, causing infection. Gum infections are extremely painful, and may result in the loss of gum tissue, teeth and bone. Some bacteria, such as Staphylococcus aureus, are responsible for causing serious health conditions. One such condition is endocarditis, a dangerous infection of the lining of the heart muscle, which can lead to heart attack, heart failure and even death.
“Lasers are a valuable tool for dentists,” says Dr. Stefania Caracioni, D.D.S., L.V.I.F. Caracioni, is a Topeka, Kansas, dentist using laser to treat patients. Caracioni uses lasers during dental procedures when possible to minimize pain and discomfort. Traditional therapies intended to remove gingivitis and periodontal infections often impact surrounding areas, causing pain, swelling and bleeding. Some of these side effects can last for several days after the procedure, and the patient is usually very uncomfortable. As lasers are able to target specific areas, these side effects are eliminated. “Some dental procedures can be a little uncomfortable with traditional tools,” she explains. “Lasers can replace traditional dental tools, make procedures more efficient and minimize pain.”
The NYIT laser dentistry study supports this fact. Researchers showed in a virtual environment that when lasers were used to eradicate bacterial colonies, the tissue surrounding the area of infection was only minimally affected by the laser’s heat. The demonstration depicts the same surrounding tissue quickly cooling down after laser exposure.
“Minimizing impact to surrounding tissue is important because it minimizes the risk of infection and pain, and promotes healing,” says Caracioni. Minimizing pain and discomfort is a benefit for many patients, especially those who may be putting off necessary treatments. “Some patients choose to live with the pain of periodontal disease because they are afraid that the treatment for their condition is more painful,” explains Caracioni. “Laser therapy can change their minds.”
Caracioni also uses laser in her practice to treat painful mouth sores, like canker sores and cold sores. Laser works for these conditions by destroying the virus or bacteria that causes the sore, giving patients immediate relief.
Caracioni also uses lasers in place of the scalpel to cosmetically enhance a patient’s smile. “Some patients may feel that their gums are too big, and hide their smile.” Laser surgery for gums can quickly resize the gums to better fit the patient’s desired look, and because the down time is minimized versus traditional gum surgery, patients are able to quickly return to normal activities, such as eating and drinking.