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The laser helps us do better dentistry

Aug. 1, 2007
When it comes to new dental technology, certain questions always seem to arise. Is it as good as the salesperson presents it to be? Will the price drop as more doctors adopt the technology?

by Michael Koceja, DDS

When it comes to new dental technology, certain questions always seem to arise. Is it as good as the salesperson presents it to be? Will the price drop as more doctors adopt the technology? Should I wait for the next generation to be developed? Laser technology in dentistry certainly fits these questions. With so many claims presented in our dental publications, what are we to believe?

I have been a laser user since 2000, and I also instruct new owners on how to incorporate dental lasers into their practices. This doesn’t mean I didn’t have my own doubts prior to taking the plunge. During the initial incorporation of lasers into my practice, I came up with many reasons not to use them. This thought process seems to be common among dentists today, but what if you had someone come into your practice just to perform laser procedures on your patients - the type of procedures you usually don’t do or refer out? I had the opportunity to help a new laser dentist in just that way.

After one dentist incorporated the Waterlase MD (YSGG) laser into his practice and I completed his initial training, he asked if I would be interested in working a few days a month in his practice doing all the procedures he felt were best treated with the laser. I accepted his offer so I could help him better understand how to use lasers in his practice. Despite purchasing the laser, he still had the following thoughts:

  1. Lasers are slow in cutting hard tissues.
  2. I don’t see many patients with the conditions associated with laser use: frenectomies, mucoceles, gingival recontouring, crown lengthening, fibromas, etc.
  3. How am I going to pay for the laser?

The plan was simple. Schedule the doctor with patients he felt were good candidates for laser dentistry. He would select procedures he didn’t do or referred out. He then would schedule procedures that the laser would improve the quality of care, and all of these procedures would be set into a normal, efficient workday. I would do those procedures.

The benefits of laser dentistry

As the medical profession incorporates amazing new technology, dentists seem very slow to change. So how can lasers change that? First of all, lasers are safe and the YSGG laser can be used in all aspects of dentistry. It can cut enamel, dentin, bone, and soft tissue without generating heat, which leads to better healing, less postoperative pain, and most importantly, happier patients. We now have a tool that helps us in all aspects of our daily practice. Simply put, the laser helps us do better dentistry.

Laser practice experiment

The procedures ➟ The procedures included both hard- and soft-tissue applications. With hard tissue, we used the laser to do procedures ranging from restorative (87 percent without local anesthetic) to osseous crown lengthening around fractured teeth prior to crown preparation. Other laser procedures were treatment of aphthous ulcers and herpetic lesions, as well as desensitizing exposed root surfaces. We used the laser for sealant placement, troughing around crown preps instead of packing cord, exposing implants, operculectomy, and an interesting case in which I contoured and thinned an existing free gingival graft.

Patient reaction ➟ The results were overwhelmingly positive. Most patients felt very little discomfort during the procedures, even without local anesthetic, and the postop problems associated with surgical procedures were nonexistent. The standard protocol was downgraded to simply over-the-counter pain medications and warm salt water rinses. We are changing the concept of dental treatment to benefit our patients.

Production and return on investment ➟ Our average production on two days of laser procedures alone was $8,486 per month. On a yearly basis this comes to $101,832. So we proved we could provide better care for our patients and make more money doing it.

Overall, this experience was successful, not only for me but for the doctor in whose office this took place. The doctor’s patient care improved, his production jumped, and he became proficient at using the YSGG laser in his practice. Similar stories are being repeated all over the country as more dentists incorporate laser technology into their dental procedures. Laser technology has improved the quality of care we can provide for our patients and it will continue to change the practice of dentistry well into the future.

Dr. Michael Koceja received his undergraduate dental degree from Marquette University School of Dentistry. He then served in the United States Navy, undergoing extensive training in all areas of dentistry, including a periodontal fellowship. As one of the early pioneers in laser dentistry, Dr. Koceja is actively involved in the testing and development of new laser techniques. He has achieved mastership level in the World Clinical Laser Institute, where he is also a member of the certification committee. He can be contacted by phone at (760) 500-6189 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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