Answer: There are several types of lasers being utilized in dentistry today, and there are a wide variety of procedures being performed with them. One type of laser is utilized in helping to diagnose dental caries (cavities). This laser, called a Diagnodent, measures the fluorescence (basically the density) of teeth to determine the location and approximate severity of cavities on the biting surface of teeth. This enables dentists to diagnose the disease early and to treat it more conservatively.
Another type is the diode laser, and it is extremely effective in performing “soft tissue” procedures. This includes the removal of excess gum tissue, fibroma removal, frenectomies, and gum recontouring to improve gingival symmetry for enhanced cosmetic results. These lasers are used routinely to perform services that were previously done with scalpels and sutures.
There are even lasers being used to do “hard tissue” procedures, in addition to the “soft tissue” procedures mentioned previously. One of these lasers, called the Waterlase, uses energized water molecules to remove cavities, recontour bone, desensitize teeth, sterilize periodontal pockets, and a multitude of other procedures. The best part is that the work can usually be done without local anesthetic (a shot), without a drill, and without pain.
Most of the discomfort associated with the traditional dental drill comes from heat and vibration. There is no heat or vibration generated with hard tissue lasers, so this eliminates the need for anesthesia in the vast majority of cases treated in this manner. Hard tissue lasers are ideal for removing new cavities, but are not effective in removing mercury/silver amalgam fillings, yet. It is probably just a matter of time, however.
Dental lasers are here to stay. With time and additional research, lasers will probably be utilized for even more dental procedures in the future.