Gum disease is the worst. Beyond the terrible sting, there’s also the matter of how to treat it: gum surgery. While it might not seem like much at first, the process might sound like a nightmare for a select few: your gums are pulled away from your teeth, parts of your palate is taken off, and after a deep cleaning the palate tissue is stitched into the affected gum area.
If that description doesn’t make you wince, that’s great! You probably won’t have trouble taking to the procedure. Others, however, might need a little more convincing. It’s particularly telling when there are less patients aged 20 and above who are willing to take a mere scaling and root planing procedure in 2016 than there were in 2010.
Fortunately, more alternatives to this cut-and-sew method have sprung up, improving on aspects that made gum surgery a frightening prospect to consider. Periodontal laser therapy is particularly becoming a viable option for those wary of the traditional route. The 2019 June issue of Dental News notes that in comparison with “conventional techniques,” this form of surgery is bloodless, requires no stitches, and reduces post-operation discomfort.
But what is periodontal laser therapy, anyway? And how effective is it? Let’s break it down further.
Lasers make use of focused light heat
To understand the benefits laser therapy can offer, it might be easier to talk about how lasers work to see how they are used during dental procedures.
In a nutshell, lasers are a collection of focused light particles. If you break down laser light into its smallest components (called a photon), you’ll find they’re all copies of each other, making them quite potent in large quantities. But having many identical photons isn’t enough to cut through solid objects. These photons must also be tight and directed—meaning, they must be concentrated to form a single stream.
That’s exactly what a laser is built to do. According to Electrical 4 U, each laser is made of the following components:
- Laser medium. Lasers operate on the concept of stimulated emission—typically, when an electron absorbs a photon with a certain amount of energy, it jumps to an excited state. It then releases a photon when it returns to its ground state. This release is called emission. However, if a photon hits an excited electron, the number of photons released doubles in number. The laser medium is then made of electron-dense material, making them open to excitement.
- External energy source. This is where the stimulation comes from. Often a light source or an electrical discharge, the source pumps the photons into the laser medium to begin stimulated emission.
- Optical resonator. To give power to the beam, the laser device still needs to do two things: amplify the light emitted and find a place to pour through. An optical resonator fulfills both needs. Typically, they are in the form of two mirrors on either side of the laser medium.
Laser therapy uses photothermolysis to target certain tissues
Because photons of laser light are copies of each other, they have similar wavelengths. Certain wavelengths can only be absorbed by select substances, allowing lasers to pass through some tissues and vaporize others. This is called photothermolysis. It’s this ability that makes lasers so suitable to surgical procedures.
Dental News’ Introduction to Laser Applications in Dental Treatments provides a practical example of this in their case study on soft tissue crown lengthening. During surgery, the fiber-like tip of the laser is placed on the target area, where it is gently guided through the area. Instead of cutting through gum tissue as a blade would, lasers essentially vaporize it layer by layer, stopping the bleeding in the process. The area is then irrigated with water to help cool down the area.
The heat emitted by lasers also serve another benefit: any bacteria that meets the laser is destroyed, disinfecting the site while the surgery occurs and closing off any entrances these diseases could slip through. Finally, laser light can also further stimulate the healing process. Since lasers are composed of photons, emitted photons are absorbed by the tissues they target, stimulating their cells to work more efficiently. They can also be received by the organ’s stem cells, which help expedite cellular regrowth.
Now that sounds a little more pleasant than your run-of-the-mill gum surgery, doesn’t it? If laser therapy sounds good to you, perhaps you might want to schedule a treatment on your next dental visit. It definitely sounds less scary than advanced periodontitis.