Many facets of modern medicine use lasers, from ophthalmology to surgeries, and dentistry is no different. In the world of dentistry, lasers are used for hygiene sessions, for whitening reasons, for oral surgery and to disinfect teeth. Different kinds of lasers are used for each of these tasks, and many different kinds of lasers exist in the use of dentistry.
Here is an overview into how lasers are used, and for what purposes.
Lasers that have a relatively high intensity are used to burn away decayed or damaged parts of a tooth. When you have dental caries, they are basically a hole that is surrounded by eroded tooth material. This laser will kill all of the bacteria and obliterate the tissue, leaving a sterile hole that can be safely filled.
A very light laser can be used to remove stains from teeth, and can also be used to burn up plaque. This is relatively rare, and the term “laser whitening” is usually a misnomer. Most places use something akin to the ZOOM! whitening process, which is basically an indigo light that is shone into the mouth and helps with the whitening process. This is not a laser though, as a dental laser is much stronger and works on a different principle. Laser whitening is basically the burning of fof stains and bacteria form the tooth surfaces.
Currently, lasers are only used in oral surgery to cauterize wounds. No other uses are as of yet known for it, as lasers have yet to work as well as scalpels do. Although laser scalpels can be used to make ultra fine incisions, lasers lack (as of yet!) the reliability and the acceptance that is necessary to put them into competition with hand held scalpels.
With the passage of time, lasers will be made more and more reliable, and as such, will probably be used more than hand held scalpels. Currently the problem is not one of strength as we have weapons grade lasers that can punch through armor, and we also have lasers that are so fine that you can perform ophthalmological surgery. The problem is that right now lasers are incredibly expensive, incredibly rare, and are not quite as reliable as they should be, and that dentistry has not set up the protocols and demands towards laser manufacturers that would stabilize the use of lasers in dentistry. Until this is done, lasers will remain where they are in dentistry; as a secondary tool to be used in conjunction with more primitive, hand held objects.
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