Laser Dentistry: Types of Procedures, Pros, Cons & Insurance

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What is Laser Dentistry?

The word LASER is an acronym for Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation. Lasers are used to create a wide range of products and technologies. They are found in tattoo removal systems, eye surgery technologies, and hair replacement treatments.

In recent years, the use of lasers in dentistry (laser dentistry) has also become an increasingly popular form of dental care. 

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Laser dentistry has been around since the 1990s and incorporates the use of lasers to treat a wide variety of dental conditions and diseases. It is a minimally invasive alternative to certain invasive treatment options, such as cavity fillings, gum disease treatment, and root canals, among others.

During laser dentistry procedures, your dentist uses a high-powered dental laser that releases light energy to remove tissues. Traditional dental procedures incorporate the use of manual scalpels to remove tissues.

Types of Laser Dental Procedures

There are four types of lasers used in dentistry, including the Diode laser, CO2 laser, Erbium laser, and Nd:YAG laser. The type of laser(s) used depends on the kind of surgery or treatment you need. 

Laser dentistry can treat many conditions related to the hard tissues or soft tissues in the mouth. Dentists can also perform biopsies and cosmetic treatments with lasers instead of manual scalpels. 

dental lasers

Soft Tissue Procedures

Common soft tissue laser procedures include:

  • “Gummy smile” treatment — a gummy smile is when someone has extra gum tissue surrounding their teeth. During a laser procedure to fix this condition, your dentist uses a high-powered dental laser to remove gum tissue.
  • Gingivectomy — a gingivectomy, also known as gum contouring or gum reshaping, is a cosmetic dental procedure that reshapes the gum line by removing gum tissue.
  • Dental crown lengthening — before getting dental restorations, such as a crown or implant, your dentist may require crown lengthening. This procedure reshapes the underlying bone and gum tissue to expose healthy tooth structure.
  • Removal of soft tissue folds — poorly-fitting dentures can result in soft tissue folds. Lasers provide a stitch-free and less painful option for soft tissue irregularities. 
  • Gum disease treatment — laser dentistry treatment can help avoid the need for gum surgery later on. More specifically, lasers can painlessly sterilize deep periodontal pockets to eliminate bacteria that cause gum disease. Dental lasers also remove any gum inflammation associated with gingivitis or periodontal disease. 
  • Frenulum (muscle attachment) treatment - laser frenectomy is a treatment that can remove gaps between teeth (diastema) and fix gum recession. 

Hard Tissue Procedures

Common hard tissue laser procedures include:

  • Tooth decay treatment — some lasers are capable of detecting tooth decay (cavities) early. They can also remove decay-causing bacteria and remove cavities in teeth without the use of traditional drilling methods.
  • Hypersensitivity treatment — tooth sensitivity is a common symptom of cavities and thin enamel. Lasers can seal tubules on your tooth’s root, resulting in less sensitivity.
  • Root canal treatment — laser-assisted root canal therapy involves the use of a laser to access the root canal, remove infected tissue, clean, sterilize, and shape the canal, and then fill it.

Other Procedures

Other popular laser dentistry treatments include:

  • Canker sore treatment (pain relief)
  • Regenerating damaged nerves, scars, and blood vessels
  • Removal of benign (non-cancerous) tumors in the mouth
  • Removing extra throat tissue that causes obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)
  • Exposing wisdom teeth before removal
  • Laser teeth whitening treatment
  • Reducing jaw pain caused by temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMD) 
  • Optical coherence tomography, which allows a dentist to see inside your gum tissue or tooth

Lasers cannot be used for certain dental procedures. This includes filling cavities between teeth, fixing pre-existing dental fillings, or filling large cavities. Removing dental crowns or cavity fillings and preparing teeth for a dental bridge also cannot be done with a laser.

Benefits & Disadvantages of Laser Dentistry

Laser dentistry has been around for almost 30 years. However, it has been growing in popularity in recent years due to new advancements in technology. There are many benefits to dental lasers over traditional manual scalpels and dental instruments. These benefits include:

lanap laser gum surgery
PROS
  • Minimally invasive and less painful. 
  • Less damage to the gums, teeth, and other tissues.
  • Stitches (sutures) are usually not necessary. 
  • Faster healing time for most patients.
  • Less swelling, discomfort, and pain.
  • Less blood loss (lasers improve blood clotting).
  • Lasers sterilize your gums, which reduces the chance of bacterial infections. 
  • Higher chance for tissues to regenerate than with traditional methods.
  • Local anesthesia is not necessary for some laser dentistry procedures.
  • Reduced dental anxiety.
CONS
  • Laser dentistry procedures are generally more expensive than traditional dental procedures.
  • Not all dental procedures can be completed with lasers.
  • Lasers cannot treat teeth with pre-existing dental fillings.
  • In many cases, drills and manual scalpels may be used in combination with lasers. 
  • Local anesthesia is still necessary for more invasive procedures.
  • There is always a small risk for gum, tooth, and tooth pulp injuries. 

Common Questions & Concerns

How Much Does Laser Dentistry Cost?

Laser dentistry is usually more expensive than traditional methods. This is because a dental drill is much less expensive than a high-powered dental laser. A laser can cost anywhere between $6,000 and $100,000, whereas a drill generally costs $1,000 or less.

Is Laser Dentistry Covered by Insurance?

Similar to normal dental procedures, insurance covers many laser dentistry treatments. However, dental insurance only partially covers restorative procedures and oral surgeries, such as cavity fillings, crowns, and wisdom tooth removal, among others. So, the coverage would be the same for a laser dentistry procedure as it would for a traditional procedure. Cosmetic procedures, such as teeth whitening and most gum contouring surgeries, are not covered by insurance. 

Are Dental Lasers Safe?

Lasers have been used in dentistry since 1994. They are proven to be safe and effective when used correctly and in combination with other professional dental instruments. Laser dental treatment is also quicker and less painful than traditional methods. 

Summary

  • Laser dentistry has been around since the 1990s. It is a minimally invasive, effective, safe, and less painful alternative to traditional dental procedures. Laser dentistry can treat a wide variety of dental conditions, such as cavity detection and removal. Lasers cannot remove pre-existing restorations, such as dental crowns and fillings. 
  • Lasers can treat many dental conditions affecting the soft tissues (gums) and hard tissues (teeth and bones). They can also remove benign tumors, regenerate nerves, reduce inflammation, relieve jaw pain, and even whiten teeth. 
  • The benefits of laser dentistry: less pain and discomfort, faster healing time, and less damage to the gums and teeth. There is also a reduced need for sutures and local anesthesia (numbing medication).
  • The downsides of laser dentistry: it is generally more expensive than traditional dental procedures and not all dental procedures can be completed with lasers.
  • Similar to traditional procedures, insurance partially covers most restorative laser treatments. Insurance never covers cosmetic procedures.

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Resources

Johar, Kirpa. Fundamentals of Laser Dentistry. Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers., 2011.

Majid, Nadim. Dentistry Demystified on Amazon. Lulu Com, 2012.

Parihar, Anuj Singh. Contemporary Laser Dentistry. Notion Press, 2018.

Verma, Sanjeev Kumar, et al. “Laser in Dentistry: An Innovative Tool in Modern Dental Practice.” National Journal of Maxillofacial Surgery, Medknow Publications & Media Pvt Ltd, July 2012, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3700144/.

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Updated on: November 23, 2020
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Alyssa Hill
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