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.