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Laser Dentistry for Smile Makeovers

Laser Dentistry for Smile Makeovers


When you think of a dental office, what sorts of instruments and equipment come to mind? If you picture cold metal scalpels, drills, and picks, you may be relieved to learn that lasers are beginning to take the place of many of these tools. Lasers  are incredibly accurate, they  shorten healing time significantly, and are almost silent. There are many applications for lasers in all facets of dentistry, especially the cosmetic procedures involved in a smile makeover. There are several types of dental lasers, each uniquely suited for certain types of soft-and hard-tissue treatments.

Lasers are incredibly accurate, they shorten healing time significantly, and are almost silent

I personally began using laser technology in my practice in 2001, and I have come to use them daily for many types of restorative and cosmetic treatments. All of my smile makeover patients have achieved the smiles of their dreams much faster and more comfortably than they imagined possible, thanks to laser dentistry.

Craig Galbrath is the quality control manager at DaVinci Dental Studios, a world-renowned provider of top-quality porcelain restorations. Mr. Galbrath said lasers are making it possible to provide better cosmetic results than ever before, especially when it comes to gum contouring.

"It's almost an essential tool nowadays," Mr. Galbrath said. "Patients want an absolutely symmetrical smile, and you could never achieve that if you had different gingival heights. Lasers are the most accurate way to achieve symmetry."

About Smile Makeovers

A smile makeover is a fully customized combination of laser cosmetic procedures designed to create subtle changes or completely transform the appearance of a patient's teeth and gums. Some of the treatments commonly performed as part of a smile makeover include:

  • Teeth whitening: A process of eliminating deep dental stains to achieve bright, white, healthy teeth.
  • Laser gum contouring: The removal of excess gum tissue to help the teeth look and be healthy and symmetrical.
  • Porcelain veneers: Thin shells of porcelain designed to attach to the front surface of a patient's tooth to conceal chips, cracks, intrinsic dental stains, wide gaps between teeth, and disproportional shapes.
  • Bonding: The application of tooth-colored resin to conceal dental imperfections.
  • Cosmetic white porcelain crowns to provide strength, natural beauty and symmetry.

Perhaps the most important step in a smile makeover is your initial consultation with your dentist. A smile makeover can be a significant investment in your confidence and your quality of life, so you have everything to gain by "auditioning" several dentists - in other words, you should consider scheduling consultations with a few dentists in your area.

During these consultations, make sure your dentist is a good listener who presents you with options and helps you understand every aspect of the treatments. Meanwhile, don't be afraid to ask about the equipment they use to perform treatment. If your dentist has a track record of providing excellent results using laser instruments, it's a good indication that he or she can provide you with a beautiful new smile, and that you may need comparatively little recovery time following treatment.

Honing the Power of Lasers for Cosmetic Dentistry

The term "laser" is actually an acronym for "light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation." Ordinary light, like the light from a lamp or the sun, consists of many different colors, or wavelengths, of light. Lasers, on the other hand, focus light into a single, coherent, monochromatic beam that can be adjusted to different wavelengths for different applications. Albert Einstein established the theoretical platform for lasers in 1917. There is some controversy over who actually invented the first successful laser, but progress in the development of lasers began accelerating dramatically in the early 1960s. Today, we use lasers in many types of industry to achieve everything from nuclear fusion to barcode scanning. Lasers also play a very important role in the transmission of telephone and television signals, as well as procedures like LASIK eye surgery.

The use of lasers in dentistry began in the early 1990s, with different laser equipment being tested and approved by the FDA throughout the subsequent years. Unlike the instruments  they are replacing, lasers do not create incisions using a sharpened edge. Instead, they break bonds between particles with focused energy. Lasers used in dentistry have specific wavelengths that make them better suited for either hard tissue or soft tissue applications.

Types of Dental Lasers

There are four primary kinds of lasers used in dentistry:

  • The Er,Cr:YSGG and Er:YAG are two types of erbium lasers. Both have wavelengths that target water molecules. In my office, we primarily use an erbium laser called the WaterLase®. It can be used to treat both hard and soft tissues, which is revolutionary. Laser energy passes in pulses through a fiber optic bundle to a laser hand-piece and  a sapphire tip. It is here at its end, where the laser energy and a water spray converge. When the two meet, the laser energizes the water and causes a microscopic water burst. When the bursting water touches the treatment site, the microscopic, energized water abates away the surface with comfort and microscopic accuracy, one layer at a time, in a non-traditional surgical fashion. WaterLase® means no shot, no cutting, no bleeding and no sutures. This is perfect for conservative soft tissue procedures such as a gum lift, closed crown lengthening, tissue sculpting, tissue ablation, or hard-tissue treatment for dental extractions and fillings.
  • Diode Lasers are used on soft tissues during treatments like gum reshaping. I use these exclusively for performing periodontal therapy, or treatment of the gums.
  • The Nd:YAG laser is also used for soft tissue dental treatments, like gum reshaping and periodontal disease treatment. Because the Nd:YAG laser targets pigments in the soft tissues and blood, dentists commonly use it to seal incisions and kill bacteria in the gums. In addition to its dental applications, the Nd:YAG laser is often used in topical skin treatments.
  • The CO2 laser, like the Nd:YAG laser, is used on soft tissues. It is usually used to create incisions and perform gingivectomies. Like the diode and erbium lasers, the CO2 laser can cauterize incisions, sealing them without the need for sutures.

The Benefits of Laser Technology

Dental lasers have many important advantages over traditional dental instruments:

  • Reduced Need for Anesthesia - Lasers are extremely precise, and unlike dental drills, they do not create intense vibrations. In many cases, you may not require any anesthesia at all during a laser treatment.
  • Minimal Bleeding - Lasers also allow your dentist to provide treatment using relatively conservative laser incisions, which means less bleeding and swelling. Lasers can also cauterize incisions, sealing them with  energy and reducing the amount of bleeding involved
  • Preservation of Tissue - Laser dental treatments are highly precise, resulting in absolute minimal disruption of healthy tooth, gum, and bone tissue surrounding the treatment area.
  • Rapid Healing - Because they make very precise incisions that can be sealed immediately, lasers minimize healing time. Patients usually do not require any sort of sutures following soft tissue procedures performed with a laser, and there is no bleeding.
  • Multiple Applications - Because of its versatile capabilities, I use my WaterLase® in every smile makeover I perform. Laser dentistry has provided innovative new options for patient comfort and beautiful results. By making adjustments, I am able to use a single laser for all types of treatment.

My patient Janell underwent a smile makeover that included laser gum contouring, laser closed crown lengthening procedures, and natural-looking, all-porcelain crowns. She said the advantages of the laser services were immediately apparent.

"It was much, much better," Janell said. "There was no discomfort at all, and there was no local anesthetic needed. The laser is very, very quiet. You hardly know that the dentist is doing anything."

Using Lasers to Create a Healthy Smile Foundation

In some cases, patients may require general or restorative dental treatment before proceeding with a smile makeover

In some cases, patients may require general or restorative dental treatment before proceeding with a smile makeover. After all, effective cosmetic treatments must be built upon a foundation of healthy gums and teeth, and lasers can make these treatments incredibly precise and comfortable, setting the stage for long-term satisfaction:

  • Removal of Caries (Decay) - The WaterLase® laser can ablate decay that has developed in a tooth and created a cavity. Because the WaterLase® is precise and does not use heat, it preserves the maximum amount of healthy tooth structure surrounding your cavity.
  • Cavity Cleaning and Preparation - The WaterLase® cleans the area in which a cavity has developed, removing any remaining bacteria and plaque to prepare the area for a filling, inlay, or onlay.
  • Tooth Resurfacing - The WaterLase® can resurface teeth for a variety of purposes. It can create a slightly etched surface that is more conducive to bonding.  This is an essential step in placing porcelain veneers, or using dental bonding to restore a tooth that has been chipped or cracked. The WaterLase® selectively removes decay before the placing of a conservative white filling.
  • Preserving or Creating a New Biological Width - The WaterLase® laser can not only refine the gum line, but also refine underlying bone tissue. "Biological width" is the amount of space on the tooth surface between the point where the tooth sulcus ends and the gum line begins. It is important that biological width is not made too shallow during a gum lift, because it can lead to increased risk of periodontal disease. If necessary, the WaterLase® is used to perform a closed crown lengthening procedure which removes a small portion of bone tissue to achieve proper biological width.
  • Restorative "Orthodontics" - In some cases, patients have  misaligned teeth, but  do not want to undergo orthodontic treatment involving metal hardware or mouthpieces. In these cases, laser therapy can actually serve as an alternative treatment. The WaterLase® can refine the tooth structure if it juts out too far and reposition gum length creating a more even base for a dental crown or dental veneer. The restorations can create the appearance of a straight smile.
  • Endodontics -  Dentists and endodontists can use laser technology during root canal therapy. Lasers can create an access point in the outer structure of your tooth, and destroy bacteria and infected tissue within it. Among many patients, root canal therapy has a bad reputation, so laser endodontics is an option.
  • Cavity Detection - The DIAGNOdent® is a unique kind of diode laser that measures laser fluorescence as it passes through your teeth. Areas with decay appear illuminated under the DIAGNOdent®, so your dentist can note areas of decay that might not have been visible to the naked eye. Unlike other diode lasers, the DIAGNOdent® is purely for diagnostics, and cannot alter tissue.

Lasers also make many soft tissue treatments more efficient and comfortable:

  • Periodontal Reshaping - Some patients have excess gum tissue resulting in a "gummy" smile that can cause teeth to look short, worn or unhealthy. Periodontal reshaping, or laser gum recontouring, can remove excess gum tissue to help your smile be healthy and attractive. When I look at a patient's smile, I view it like a piece of art. The teeth are the focal point of the art, the gums are the matting, and the lips create the frame. By creating a beautiful, proportional "matting," I can improve the look of the teeth and the smile as a whole. Because lasers seal the incisions as they remove excess gum tissue, they reduce the pain and recovery time to an absolute minimum. The WaterLase® could be the "missing link" to beautiful, predictable smile dentistry.

I frequently collaborate with orthodontist Daniel Keith. Dr. Keith says lasers can make a world of difference in aesthetics and patient satisfaction, especially when it comes to periodontal reshaping.

"I tell my patients that lasers can take their treatment from a 9.5 to a 10," he said.

  • Frenectomy - A frenectomy releases the frenulum, the thin piece of tissue located above and between your two front teeth that connects your gums to your upper lip. The frenulum can cause your upper lip to rest too low on your smile. There is also a strip of tissue beneath the tongue, called the lingual frenulum, that can restrict tongue movement, impede speech, and result in other complications. Lasers can excise part of either frenulum to allow a wider range of motion and release tension. No shots, no bleeding, no pain, quick healing-- all equal happier patients!
  • Treating Periodontal Disease - Laser therapy destroys oral bacteria that eventually lead to periodontal disease. Laser therapy can treat pockets of bacteria that have developed below the gum line. Treatment for periodontal disease is of utmost importance before proceeding with any other smile makeover treatments.
  • Treatment of Canker Sores - A canker sore is an open sore that occurs in the mouth. They can be very painful. The WaterLase® laser can kill germs in a canker sore and promote faster healing. Oftentimes the canker sores will not re-occur.
  • Decontaminating Dental Implants - Dental implants are small titanium posts that are surgically inserted in the jaw bone to replace lost tooth roots and provide a strong base for dentures and dental crowns. WaterLase® lasers can be used to treat bacteria and infection that develops around dental implants without compromising the jawbone or damaging healthy gum tissue. This promotes healing, prevents peri implantitis, bone growth, and pocket reduction. Failing implants have been saved through laser decontamination procedures.

Investing in Laser Dental Services

When considering a smile makeover, you should focus on your dentist's skill, reputation, knowledge and past completed cases rather than his or her price

There are many factors that can affect the cost of any kind of dental care, including the tools and technology in use at the practice. A WaterLase® laser costs more than a dental drill or scalpel, which could increase the cost of a smile makeover, so it is fair to assume that a dentist using this technology may charge a little more.  However, when considering a smile makeover, you should focus on your dentist's skill,  reputation, knowledge and past completed cases rather than his or her price.   Some dentists can provide good results with traditional dental tools, while many others provide excellent results with lasers. However, if you consider that laser treatments can help you begin enjoying your new smile sooner than treatment performed with traditional tools, the added cost can yield highly satisfying returns.

I personally believe everyone should be able to enjoy a beautiful, healthy smile that helps them to feel confident. Smile makeovers can be made affordable by spreading out treatments or payments overtime.  If the cost of a smile makeover has discouraged you from visiting your dentist in the past, there are financing options available to make your dream affordable.

Most offices accept insurance and credit cards and may provide in-house patient financing with low monthly payments. Other third-party services work like dental credit cards that you pay off over time. Most modern dental offices have teams that can help you explore different options and find the one that works for you.

Next-level Dental Technology for a Next-level Smile

The field of laser dentistry has been developing and advancing for more than 20 years, and is only continuing to improve. I have personally seen the improvement these treatments can make in my patients' lives, and the joy my patients feel when their treatments are performed with the level of precision and efficiency that lasers provide. It is very exciting to think about how lasers will continue to improve dental treatment in years to come.

You deserve to feel confident in your smile. If you feel self-conscious about the appearance of your smile, or simply wish to achieve enhancements that can better complement your features, speak with a dentist using laser technology. A custom smile makeover plan incorporating laser technology can help you achieve beautiful results with minimal discomfort and downtime.

Life is Too Beautiful Not to Smile!!

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