Are dental lasers safe for children?

Is the dental laser safe to use on children? Why don't most dentist use lasers?


This is a perfect example of a short question that requires a detailed answer. Lasers are very popular in surgical procedures but they have seen only limited use in dentistry for many years. Lower-powered lasers are most effective in dental procedures that involve the soft tissues (gums). Historically, lasers have been a less effective treatment for cavities in teeth (hard tissues). There has been a lot of press in the United States about the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval of Premire Laser Systems' device for treating tooth decay. This laser, called the Centauri(tm) Erbium Yttrium Aluminum Garnet, is the first laser approved to treat hard tissues (including cavity preparation). The FDA approval does not include use of the laser on children's teeth at this time because the large, sensitive inner tooth pulp may be penetrated by the laser and cause irreversible damage to the primary tooth.

Adult (permanent) teeth have a different structure and do not seem to be adversely effected by the laser heat. A total of 1,300 permanent teeth were prepared using the laser and, reportedly, only 3 patients required local anesthesia to complete the procedure. Three year follow-up studies showed that the laser was just as effective at treating cavities as the high-speed handpiece (more affectionately known as the dental drill).

I think this is exciting news because it suggests that the dental laser may some day replace the dental drill and the dreaded needle. The laser also expedites some dental visits because, without anesthesia, there is no need to wait for the patient's mouth to go numb before starting the treatment! I hope that these advantages encourage people to seek regular dental check-ups.

A new era in dental history is beginning; however, don't expect many dentists to adopt this new technology immediately. The laser costs about $40,000 and is effective on limited procedures. For example, the laser is not approved for root canals or bone shaping procedures in children or adults as of 1997. Dentists will also need additional specialized training to learn to use the laser safety and effectively. Stay tuned for updates! Laser application in dentistry is an expanding technology.

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