As well as traditional drills, dentists may also use lasers for some procedures, including:
- Tooth decay. Lasers are used to remove decay within a tooth and prepare the surrounding enamel for the receipt of the filling. Lasers are also used to "cure" or harden a filling, but they cannot be used on fillings containing mercury (usually silver coloured) because they vaporise the filling and create a dangerous mercury-containing gas.
- Gum disease. Lasers are used to reshape gums and remove bacteria during root canal procedures.
- Biopsy or lesion removal. Lasers can be used to remove a small piece of tissue (called a biopsy) so that it can be examined for cancer. Lasers are also used to remove lesions in the mouth, and can relieve the pain of aphthous ulcers.
- Teeth whitening. Lasers are used to speed up in-surgery teeth whitening procedures. A peroxide bleaching solution, applied to the tooth surface, is "activated" by laser energy, which speeds up the whitening process.
How do lasers work in dentistry?
All lasers work by delivering energy in the form of light. When used for surgical and dental procedures, the laser acts as a cutting instrument or a vaporiser of the tissue that it comes into contact with. When used for "curing" a filling, the laser helps to strengthen the bond between the filling and the tooth. When used in teeth whitening procedures, the laser acts as a heat source and enhances the effect of tooth beaching agents.
What are the pros and cons of using a laser in dentistry?
Compared to the traditional dental drill, lasers:
- Do not heat up or make a noise like a conventional drill
- May cause less pain in some instances, therefore, reducing the need for an anaesthetic
- May reduce anxiety in patients uncomfortable with the use of the dental drill
- Minimise bleeding and swelling during soft tissue treatments
- May preserve more healthy tooth during cavity removal
The disadvantages of lasers are that:
- They cannot be used on teeth with fillings already in place
- They cannot be used for many commonly performed dental procedures. For example, lasers cannot be used to fill cavities located between teeth or around old fillings, or for large cavities that need to be prepared for a crown. In addition, lasers cannot be used to remove defective crowns or silver (mercury) fillings, or prepare teeth for bridges.
- Traditional drills may still be needed to shape the filling, adjust the bite and polish the filling even when a laser is used
- They do not eliminate the need for an anaesthetic
- Laser equipment may be more expensive