Quick, painless dentistry has arrived

The fine pinpoint laser from the WaterLase iPlus handpiece. It can cut away tooth or tissue without pain. Supplied

The fine pinpoint laser from the WaterLase iPlus handpiece. It can cut away tooth or tissue without pain. Supplied

Published Jun 4, 2015


Johannesburg - The painful injections, the drilling… we’re all familiar with the unpleasant dentist’s chair experience.

But while we were sitting there enduring, dentistry was evolving.

Today there’s a laser machine that can perform a host of dental procedures, in most cases without anaesthetic, without pain, without drilling and vibration, and often, with far more effective results.

Dental procedures are also faster and easier, with better healing.

Enter the WaterLase iPlus Dental Laser, made by California-based dental laser manufacturer Biolase. New to the South African market, this latest version of the WaterLase offers the latest alternative to traditional dental tools.

It can do a whole raft of procedures, including prepare a cavity for filling, root canal preparation and remove diseased bone and gum tissue. Patients have little to no pain or discomfort during the procedure, surgery is faster, and patient recovery better with no swelling, bruising, pain killers or antibiotics needed in most cases.

The first dentist in Johannesburg to use the new WaterLase iPlus laser was Dr Sam Thandar in Rosebank, who has already treated many patients with it. One patient is Laurence van Niekerk, who had a filling done.

“The anxiety was worse than the procedure,” he says. “There was no injection and no pain. There was no drilling sound or vibration, just a faint popping sound and fine water spray, which felt a bit cold, but that’s all.”

The WaterLase sprays a mix of water and air with laser energy through a special handpiece at diseased tissue, which contains more water molecules than the rest of the tooth.

The laser energy causes the water molecules to explode, literally vapourising the rotten tissue. Patients hear the popping sound of the water molecules exploding. There is no heat, vibration or pressure. The laser wand itself never comes into contact with the body.

“The laser energy is emitted from the handpiece with the tip held just millimetres away from the tissue,” says Thandar. “And the laser is precise, so it gives the dentist more control. It replaces a lot of surgical work that we used to use a scalpel for, particularly for any kind of gum reshaping or surgery. And there is no bleeding and almost no post-operative pain or swelling.”

How does a laser eliminate pain? The laser pulses at such high speed that it “tricks” the nerves inside the tooth or gum area being worked on. Also, the pain associated with the drill is mostly due to heat and vibration.

“There is no heat or vibration with a laser, so there is no need for anaesthesia in many cases. This is a huge advantage when you’re working with children,” explains Peter Doubell, chief executive of SciVision, the distributor of the WaterLase iPlus in South Africa.

The laser is useful in treating gum infections and disease, because it is able to remove bacteria in the gums without the need to surgically cut or raise flaps in the gums. The laser kills germs on the spot while disinfecting the area being worked on.

“The laser’s ability to disinfect, kill and remove bacteria is a huge benefit, because there is less chance of infection and less need for antibiotics and other drugs,” says Doubell.

“Dentists can cut and shape teeth, bone and gum tissue with far more control and with much less trauma and pain.”

Thus, the WaterLase is ideal for smile make-overs – fixing a gummy smile (gingivectomy) and for crown lengthening (exposing more tooth for crowning).

Because there is little or no need for anaesthesia when using the WaterLase, most or all of dental work can be done in a single visit.

Also, because the laser makes doing many procedures easier, dentists don’t need to refer every complex case to specialists, saving time and effort for the patient.

It works on both the teeth (hard tissue) and the gums (soft tissue).

Another type of laser for soft tissue and healing, called the EPIC diode laser (also a Biolase product), is also being used to do many procedures like contour gums (smile design), remove growths, treat mouth ulcers and cold sores, disinfect root canals and desensitise teeth. The diode laser emits low-level energy, which promotes faster tissue repair and wound-healing, says Thandar.

This EPIC laser is also popularly used for teeth-whitening procedures. Again, the laser wand is held over the teeth, which have been smeared with a special laser bleaching gel. The entire procedure is completed in less than 30 minutes.

“The huge advantage for teeth whitening with the EPIC diode laser is there is normally no sensitivity,” says Thandar. “It is also excellent for pain relief in general. So we use it too for temporomandibular joint dysfunction or discomfort from clenching or teeth grinding, which people in stressful jobs often suffer from. The diode laser gives them instant relief.”

Dental lasers have taken dentistry to a new level, and who knows where it is going while you get your next painless filling done.

* COST: A filling or gum procedure done with a laser should not cost much more than a procedure done with conventional tools, although not all medical aid schemes cover the cost, so check first.

* See www.scivision.co.za, distributor of the BioLase products, for a list of dentists using the EPIC Laser.

The Star

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