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Dental Lasers: A Cut Through to Truth

January 01, 1991|KATHLEEN DOHENY

Dental patients facing gum surgery often call Robert Pick, a Chicago periodontist, and ask whether he can treat them with a few well-executed aims of his dental laser.

His reply is likely to leave callers, who are looking for a magical, painless treatment, feeling down-in-the-mouth.

"I have to tell them that treatment (of periodontal disease) generally involves not just the gums but the bone and root areas of the tooth, and that lasers are ineffective in those sites," says Pick, an associate professor of periodontology at the Northwestern University Dental School. He has published numerous studies on dental lasers, which are being used by a growing number of dentists.

To quell consumer confusion, the American Academy of Periodontology--of which Pick is a member--recently released a statement on dental lasers. Among its important points:

* Dental laser use is approved by the Food and Drug Administration only for procedures on the soft tissues of the mouth. These represent only a minor part of all gum disease treatment. "Lasers can be helpful for treating an overgrowth of gum tissue, for example, or for removing oral tumors and curetaging gum tissue," says Pick.

* The advantages of lasers in certain procedures is proven. But no published studies have yet shown that lasers are superior to conventional dental instrument use.

Lasers are an augment to conventional treatment, says Pick, who notes that two types of lasers are now used in dental procedures. One is a carbon dioxide laser; the other is a YAG (yttrium, aluminum, garnet) laser, more recently approved for dental use.

Periodontists and oral surgeons are most likely to have dental lasers, Pick says, but growing numbers of general dentists are buying them as well. Some dentists complain that their colleagues oversell the value of lasers to patients.

Here are key questions to ask if your dentist suggests laser treatment, according to Pick and William F. Ammons, a University of Washington professor of dentistry and a member of the Academy's research, science and therapy committee.

* Where did you train in laser use?

* How many of these procedures have you done with the laser?

* What are the advantages and disadvantages of this laser treatment?

* Has the laser been approved for this purpose?

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