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Dr. Abernathy maintains a membership in the Academy of General Dentistry, one of only a few professional organizations that require members to keep up with current advances in the dental profession by attending a specified number of continuing education courses every year.
Throughout my career there has rarely been a day when some patient didn't say, "Hey, Doc, when are they going to get rid of that loud whiny drill?" or "I hate those shots. Are they ever going to invent something better?" My answer has always been, "Yeah, probably someday someone will invent a laser that does it quieter, better, and painlessly, but probably not in my lifetime."
Well I stand corrected. A few months ago I began using a dual wavelength laser called the Lightwalker in my office. It is the most amazing machine I have ever seen, and is probably the greatest advance in dental care since local anesthetic. For most dental procedures the laser is faster and more comfortable, and eliminates or greatly lessens the need to use that whiny drill many of you hate. Many procedures can even be competed without the use of local anesthetic (those dreaded 'shots').
Here is a short list of some of the benefits the laser can provide for you:
* Many routine fillings with no need for anesthetic. Imagine skipping the dreaded 'shot' and going home without that numb feeling in your lips.
* Many minor surgical procedures can also be completed with no anesthetic or only topical (rub on) anesthetic.
* Treatment to make fever blisters, aphthous ulcers, or other mouth sores clear up in a day or two instead of the usual two weeks
* Most dreaded "root canal" treatments or complex oral surgeries accomplished faster and easier with the laser, along with greatly lessened post-treatment discomfort.
There are a few things the laser will not do, but its capabilities are much greater that I can possibly list here. Check out laser dentistry. You'll be glad you did.
What is a laser?
In simplest terms a laser is a concentrated beam of light. That doesn't sound too scary, does it? In the case of our dental laser, the light is not a constant beam, but is pulsed like a strobe, but much faster. Without being too complicated, light can be measured in wavelengths. In the case of the dental laser light, each of these wavelengths can be used for very specific tasks...some work better to sterilize or stimulate blood flow in well defined areas, some work better on hard tissues (tooth enamel, for instance) and some work better on soft tissues, such as gingival (gum) tissue or fever blisters. Dr. Abernathy's laser has available two different wavelengths and an almost infinite number of power and pulse settings, allowing him to choose the most efficient settings for each dental treatment.
What does the laser do differently?
Traditional dental work is done with a spinning drill. You probably remember the whining noise. Most people don't like it. The spinning also generates heat, and that is why you almost always have to have a shot to numb the area before work is done.
The laser is just concentrated light energy. There is no friction from spinning and so no frictional heat buildup. That allows Dr. Abernathy to work on your tooth in many instances with no anesthetic...no shot.
A laser sounds like it should be hot and painful! Why isn't it?
The newest generation of medical and dental lasers are called 'cold lasers.' Rather that putting out a constant stream of intense laser light, which would, in fact, be very hot and painful, these new lasers emit quick pulses of light energy...pulses that are extremely intense for tiny fractions of a second, followed by a longer period of rest before the next pulse. That allows the tooth to remain cool while the laser is at work. In the time it took you to read this, the laser would have pulsed over 1000 times.
What can the laser do for me?
Dr. Abernathy uses the laser for everything from root canal treatments to oral surgery to simple fillings. There are a few things the laser will not do, but we continue to be amazed at all the procedures it will accomplish quicker and better than conventional dental treatments. What kind of dental care do you think you need?
Is the laser treatment painful?
The answer is absolutely, positively no...some of the time. Some procedures such as root canal treatment, where we are working directly on a nerve, some oral surgeries, or dental fillings very near a nerve would be painful even with the laser. Dr. Abernathy still uses conventional anesthetics in those cases so you won't experience pain. Even when it is necessary to use local anesthetic, the laser treatment is still beneficial because it is often faster than conventional treatment, and creates less post-treatment discomfort. In many cases, the antibacterial effect of the laser also makes the long-term success rate of treatment much higher.
Is laser treatment expensive?
That question has a complicated answer. (1) In some cases, laser treatment is actually less expensive than traditional treatments. Several oral surgical procedures are much faster with the laser and require no conventional incisions or sutures. The cost is generally less because of the time and material savings. (2) Root canal treatment is a good example of a treatment that is about the same cost whether done with the laser or done conventionally. Laser treatment of the root canal creates a cleaner, more sterile environment and so is much better for the patient, so Dr. Abernathy uses the laser in all root canal cases except those where the patient's dental insurance will not cover the service. (3) Routine dental fillings are usually a little more expensive that traditional fillings because they take longer. Dr. Abernathy does most of these fillings without anesthetic because patients prefer it that way. This requires using the laser on very low power to keep it comfortable, but requires more time than conventional treatment. Benefits to the patient are that there is no 'numb' lip for the rest of the day, and, unlike conventional drilling on the tooth, the laser sterilizes as it goes so there is clean, bacteria free tooth structure under the filling when it is placed.
Is the laser used to do crowns?
Crowns still have their uses, but with the advent of adhesive dental restorations combined with the use of lasers and microscopes, Dr. Abernathy believes crowns are much overused by dentists. Except in cases of a tooth with root canal treatment or a tooth that already has a crown that needs to be replaced, he usually prefers to place a sculpted composite restoration in many teeth that have been treatment planned for crowns. The laser allows him to prepare the tooth much more conservatively, leaving much stronger and healthier natural tooth structure in place than would grinding it all away with a drill. Another big advantage for the patient is that instead of paying a thousand dollars or more for a crown, a sculpted composite restoration can be less than half that price.
The above questions are only a few of the ones we hear from patients about laser dental care. Lasers are new to many patients, but have actually been around and in use for advanced dental care for a long time. Dr. Abernathy's newest laser, with the interstellar name of Lightwalker, is the most advanced laser with the greatest capabilities he has ever been able to offer his patients. Our office has actually used several different lasers for over 20 years, so laser treatment is not new to us. We are just pleased to be able to offer the state-of-the-art dental care available with this newest laser.
Please don't hesitate to call with laser questions that may not be answered here. Dr. Abernathy's office hours are 8:30-5:00 Monday through Thursday. You can call us at 870-932-2644 or, to avoid long distance charges, at 1-TOOTHACHE-1. If you prefer email, reach us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Steven Abernathy
2919 Browns Lane
All images copyright J.S. Abernathy, 2014 2919 Browns Ln. Jonesboro, AR 72404 1-866-842-2431 (1-TOOTHACHE-1)