Often when you hear the word “laser” you think of sci-fi and all the fun that’s been had over the years with lasers as the focus. However, lasers are very useful when it comes to dentistry and other medical practices. It can often be a surprise to some at how much lasers actually do and how much they further the medical field in general. Speaking specifically in dentistry, there are a few types of lasers used and each for different purposes.

Lasers made their debut into dentistry back in 1994. They’re FDA approved and provide a useful means to certain treatments. However, they’re often not used as the first line of treatment if a more classic treatment is available. They have a couple of limitations which can make them tricky to use from time to time.

Erbium Lasers

Erbium lasers are a type of hard tissue laser. There are two types used in dentistry. Their two specific classifications are based on the crystal they’re powered by and their wavelength. The two main erbium lasers have slight variances and are classified by News Medical as, “Er, Cr: YSGG (yttrium scandium gallium garnet) lasers and Er: YAG (yttrium aluminum garnet) lasers.” These hard tissue lasers reduce vibrations and noises as opposed to traditional dental tools. They can prepare enamel and bone, along with a plethora of other functions. With the use of lasers instead of high-speed dental tools, there is usually no need for as much anesthesia and recovery is quicker since there’s less trauma to the oral area.

Carbon Dioxide Lasers

The CO2 laser is great for removing soft tissue quite quickly. However, it has a tendency to be expensive, bulky, and cause hard tissue damage. However, using it allows for minimal tissue penetration which makes for a quick procedure.

Diode Lasers

Diode lasers are a type of soft tissue laser. If you’ve ever used a laser pointer, diode lasers function in a similar fashion. They’re usually compact in size and are very affordable which makes them a big draw in the world of dentistry. Diode lasers are used in laser teeth whitening, impression troughing, gingivectomies, and more. Intraoral soft tissue procedures are their main use and they can cover quite a large spread of procedures in this category.

Hard and Soft Tissue Lasers

Overall, most dental lasers are placed into two categories – hard or soft tissue lasers. This is because some are too abrasive for a soft tissue while others aren’t abrasive enough for hard tissue. Some can be used interchangeably if their wavelength allows it. For example, erbium lasers can often be used for soft tissue use, depending on the procedure. The world of lasers can become a very in-depth topic, however, the basics mentioned are a great glimpse at the use of lasers in dentistry.