The prospect of painless cavity repair and prevention could hold wide appeal for many people. Lasers may be the answer to this according to Peter Rechmann, Prof. of Preventive and Restorative Dental Science at the University of California, San Francisco.
Rechmann has spent several decades exploring the latest frontier in laser dentistry – preventing cavities before they start.
More dental lasers are coming to the market and may soon see wider adoption in dental practices. These specially designed lasers – known as short-pulsed carbon dioxide lasers – can alter the chemical composition of tooth enamel, making it stronger.
The heat from the laser can change the top layer of enamel so it is more resistant to acid produced by bacteria. Acid eating away at tooth enamel is the instigator of cavities.
In a small 2012 clinical study, Rechmann’s team showed that laser treatment could promote the remineralisation of teeth when combined with a fluoride varnish, essentially reversing damage. In 20 patients, they laser-treated molars on one side of the mouth, leaving molars on the other side of the mouth as controls. All the teeth were treated with fluoride varnish. A year into the study, teeth that had been laser treated had fewer signs of decay, on average, than at the beginning of the study.
A prescription fluoride toothpaste can help protect and remineralise teeth with daily use, but lasers can achieve long-lasting benefits with one treatment. This could be an option for teenagers with orthodontic braces that make teeth more difficult to brush, for example, and others prone to tooth decay.