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Can Lasers End Being Afraid of the Dentist?

Like laser eye surgery before it, laser dentistry is changing the entire game – making patients healthier and less anxious.

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Patient in dentist chair

“I started with lasers 10 years ago,” says Dr. Sanda Moldovan, a Beverly Hills laser periodontist. “My first periodontal laser surgery was on a patient who had had traditional surgery. [Afterward, the patient] told me the pain was much less. They didn’t have the usual swelling. I never want to go back to the traditional way. Lasers are here to stay.”

Dr. Moldovan reports better patient results across the board with lasers. “The whole health industry is trending toward minimally invasive procedures. Better healing means better comfort. [Laser surgery] improves the patient’s comfort and their ability to go back to work. They feel more relaxed and at ease.”

Superior tools

“In the history of surgery, we used to make large wounds for access so it could be open enough to see inside,” explains Dr. Samuel Low, Chief Dental Officer at BIOLASE, a developer and manufacturer of dental lasers. “With lasers, we make micro-incisions. The width of a blade – even the smallest one – is still wide. But the energy coming off the tip of the laser is much smaller. Only 0.4 millimeters in diameter, on average.”

This allows for more conservative dentistry, according to Harold Flynn, CEO of BIOLASE. “Lasers are more efficient for the patient,” says Flynn. “They let you get more dentistry done in one sitting. Traditional drills can actually create micro-cracks and chips. With lasers, you can just go after the cavity, take away only the diseased portion of the tooth and reduce future restorative issues.”

Reduced recovery

The precise nature of lasers means less healing time for the patient. “Laser is energy,” explains Dr. Moldovan. “The energy involved goes beyond just the laser tip. We can’t see it. Laser energy penetrates past the bone and gum tissue. It speeds up the metabolism of the cell for healing and decreases the pain molecules that are released after surgery.”

Dr. Moldovan describes the ease with which her patients can now get their necessary dental work done: “We have someone with a gummy smile, we use a laser to reveal more of the teeth. The laser can evaporate all that gum without bleeding. I had a patient get a gum lift in the middle of their work day and go back to work without [the need for] pain medication.”

“If they have gum disease, it doesn’t only have to do with their mouth. There is a direct relation between gum disease and heart disease.”

No pain, no fear

Nobody understands (and dreads) people’s fears of sitting in the dentist chair more than dentists themselves. “Children can be treated without needing scary and painful shots,” says Flynn. “This decreases their anxiety greatly. A lot of adults with anxiety about going to the dentist had a traumatizing experience getting a shot as a child. Minimizing such trauma is the benefit of minimally invasive microsurgery.” “All of our clinical research not only looks at our clinical outcome but patient-related outcomes,” says Dr. Low. “How does the patient feel the next day? Rarely do I send anyone back with a script for opioids.”

There’s an invisible benefit to creating an atmosphere of less fear and anxiety around getting into the dentist’s chair: not avoiding dental work. “One of the biggest misconceptions surrounding gum disease is that because someone doesn’t have any warning signs [i.e. bleeding gums, loose teeth], they’re therefore okay,” says Dr. Low.

“It’s about inflammation of the gums,” he continues. “If they have gum disease, it doesn’t only have to do with their mouth. There is a direct relation between gum disease and heart disease. There’s an indirect relation between gum disease, diabetes and preterm low birth-weight babies. It’s the inflammation. People walk around with untreated inflammation, and it adversely affects total body health.”

If lasers help the dentist’s chair seem friendlier, they could be saving lives.

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