Lasers in Dentistry

lasers in dentistry NHR coverby Chris Edwards, DDS

National Health Review

Lasers have been used in dentistry since 1990. The term is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.”  The theory of lasers was initially proposed by Einstein in 1917 and the first working laser device was made in 1960 by Theodore Maiman at Hughes Research Labs. Much of the primary research comes from Russia, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, where lasers have been used for more than 40 years.

A laser is an instrument that produces a very narrow, intense beam of light energy. When laser light comes in contact with tissue, it causes a reaction. The light produced by the laser can remove, vaporize, shape or stimulate healing in tissue. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has determined that lasers can be used as a safe and effective treatment for a wide range of dental procedures.

For patients, the benefits are many. Lasers create no damage in the adjacent soft or hard tissue, which avoids the inflammatory response and creates less pain and swelling and promotes faster healing. In many instances, they cause less pain than the drill, thus reducing the need for anesthesia. This alleviates anxiety in many patients who are uncomfortable with the “shot” or the dental drill. There may be sensation but it is usually not considered painful. Lasers kill bacteria, and minimize bleeding and swelling during soft tissue treatments. They also preserve more healthy tooth structure during decay removal.

There are a few negatives, however.  Lasers can’t be used on teeth with fillings already in place, and they can’t be used to remove defective crowns or silver fillings. Traditional drills are still needed to shape the filling, adjust the bite, and polish the filling even when a laser is used. In some cases, anesthesia is still necessary depending on the patient and the type of procedure.

The Waterlase MD™, primarily a cutting laser, is attracted to water. The interaction with water, called hydrophotonics, enables the laser to be used on tooth, bone and soft gum tissue. The water has a cooling effect that aids in the many procedures that can be performed. At lower power settings it is very effective at desensitizing teeth and healing common mouth and lip ulcers.

The Diagnodent Laser Cavity Detector® is an important part of minimally invasive dentistry, and is a brilliant tool that scans teeth with harmless laser light searching for hidden decay. It finds cavities before they are visible to the naked eye or even before they show up on an X-ray. Early diagnosis combined with minimally invasive treatments that remove only the smallest amount of tooth to restore the decay, gives that tooth the best chance to need no further treatment.

Dentists using the Diagnodent and the Waterlase MD are able to diagnose earlier and restore teeth with minimal enamel removal, which gives teeth a better chance to last a lifetime and may free patients from those big amalgam filings, cracked teeth or the expense of crowns and root canals.

Low Level Laser Therapy (LLLT), or cold laser, soft laser or laser phototherapy (given at a gentle output), is very different from higher powered cutting lasers. LLLT is considered a healing laser and irradiates normal and abnormal tissue with photons at a gentle intensity below the level of thermal damage, even inches deep into the body. The photons of light are taken into the cell and used by the mitochondria for energy. The result is that normal cell morphology and function are restored. Cell membrane function is improved and stem cells are converted to new tissue cells to speed healing. Enhanced healing is accompanied by a decrease in inflammation and pain.

Low Level Lasers are used to treat bone infections, canker sores, gingivitis, cold sores, lip wounds, swelling, pain and temporomandibular disorders, as well as before or after drilling, extractions, surgeries and implant placements.

Lasers are very valuable in the treatment of periodontal disease, which involves pockets under the gum that lead to bone loss. With lasers, the traditional and painful treatment of resecting the gum and reshaping the bone, which leaves sensitive roots exposed to collect plaque, and difficult to maintain, can be avoided. There is less post-operative discomfort and it is much easier for the patient to maintain a satisfying final result when the gum remains to cover the roots. In many periodontal procedures, the laser can replace the scalpel and treat a variety of other conditions of the gums with surgical precision, often without the need for anesthetic shots and with less pain and faster healing.

Lasers have revolutionized medicine and dentistry, enabling physicians and dentists to serve patients in ways that conventional treatments cannot. These photons or little “packets of light” can have profound effects and improve treatment outcomes resulting in happier patients and practitioners.


Dr. Edwards graduated from the United States Merchant Marine Academy and Temple University School of Dentistry. He completed a general practice residency at the Queens Medical Center in Honolulu. To reach Dr. Edwards you may call 321-751-7775 or visit

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