405 Frederick Road, Suite 150, Catonsville, MD 21228
Periodontal (gum) disease is potentially devastating to your teeth, gums and bone. To fight it we have to remove the substance that causes and sustains the disease from all oral surfaces — a thin layer of bacteria and food particles known as plaque.
To accomplish this task, we use a variety of hand instruments called scalers to mechanically remove plaque and calculus (hardened plaque deposits), as well as ultrasonic equipment to vibrate plaque loose and flush it away with water. If we detect plaque deposits well below the gum line and around the tooth roots, we may need to use other techniques like root planing or surgery to access these deeper areas.
Â While gum disease is persistent and aggressive, these traditional techniques have proven quite effective in controlling the infection and restoring health to diseased gums. Yet like other aspects of medicine and dentistry, technological advances have created a new option for gum disease treatment: the Nd:YAG laser.
The Nd:YAG laser is named for the crystal it uses to produce a narrow and intense beam of light on a specific frequency. In recent years it's become an important surgical tool because it can distinguish between diseased and healthy tissue, destroying the former while not affecting the latter.Â It's being used now on a limited basis for treating gum disease, especially for removing infected tissue in deep pockets that can form below the gum line, and for removing plaque and calculus from root surfaces.
Â Because of its precision, early evidence of effectiveness is encouraging: minimal tissue damage and swelling, less bleeding and reduced patient discomfort after treatment. The heat from the laser has also been shown to kill bacteria and essentially sterilize the area.
Still, the findings aren't conclusive enough as to whether lasers are superior in most circumstances to traditional scaling methods. For the time being, we'll continue to use the tried and true methods for removing plaque and calculus. But as laser technology advances, the time may come when this new approach to gum disease treatment will become a more prominent and beneficial option for patients.
If you would like more information on your treatment options for gum disease, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Lasers Versus Traditional Cleanings for Treating Gum Disease.”
Since their development in the laboratory over five decades ago, lasers have found increasing use in our everyday lives. In the field of medicine, it’s not uncommon to find lasers in the offices of dermatologists, ophthalmologists and surgeons, to name just a few. Now, some dentists are finding that lasers can offer an alternative means of treating gum disease — and one that may have advantages in certain situations.
You probably know that a laser produces a special kind of light — in fact, its name is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation.” Essentially, a medical laser uses electrical energy to produce an intense and narrow beam of concentrated light. This light can be directed to a particular area, often via a fiber-optic channel. The laser’s precision allows a doctor or technician to focus the light energy exactly where it’s needed — to remove diseased tissue, seal off blood vessels, and sterilize a wound, for example.
For several years, periodontists — dentists who specialize in treating diseases of the gums — have been researching the use of lasers for treating certain types of gum disease. In standard clinical practice, hand-held instruments and ultrasonic cleaning tools are used at regular time intervals (3 – 6 months) to remove the sticky bacterial biofilm, as well as calculus (tartar), that forms in between teeth and gums. If that still isn't effective, gum surgery may be required to access the affected area, remove diseased tissue, and reduce pocket depth (the space below the gum line that gets larger as bone loss occurs) to prevent reinfection.
Recently, however, several new procedures have been developed that use lasers to accomplish some or all of these goals. One type of therapy uses a special laser that emits pulses of light with a specific wavelength (color) of 1064 nanometers. This light passes through healthy cells like a sunbeam through a window — but when it encounters darkly-pigmented bacteria, it vaporizes them instantly!
One of the potential advantages of laser treatment is its precision: focused directly on the area where trouble occurs, it targets diseased tissue but leaves healthy tissue alone. Another is that laser treatment is less invasive: It requires less tissue removal, and may cause less discomfort and tissue shrinkage (gum recession) than conventional periodontal surgery. And because it produces small amounts of heat, it can seal blood vessels and help control bleeding.
While lasers have long shown promise for treating gum disease, until recently it wasn’t clear if they offered any advantages over traditional methods. Now, several studies have shown that certain laser treatments can be just as effective as traditional gum surgery in many cases — with the potential benefit of being less invasive. In the future, the use of lasers for periodontal procedures is likely to increase.
It’s important to remember that no single treatment — not even a laser — can “zap” gum disease in one fell swoop. Controlling periodontal disease requires effective at-home oral hygiene combined with regular professional care. If you have questions about periodontal disease, please call our office to schedule a consultation.