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New technology against tooth decay.

New Technology Against Tooth Decay

Laser technology is the latest and most exciting development in the ever-expanding practice of dentistry. According to Dr. George Willenborg of Tufts University School of Dental Medicine, it should play a major role in the fight against tooth decay.

The detection of decay is usually accomplished by the visual inspection of teeth or by X rays. For the most part, these methods have sufficed. However, the detection of "beginning decay" (surface erosion of calcium that has not yet penetrated the enamel) has frequently been inadequate. According to Dr. Willenborg, a laser that is capable of detecting slight changes in the enamel will pass across the teeth and clearly note any area of beginning decay. By varying the intensity of the laser beam, the decalcified area can be removed, leaving a small depression on the tooth surface. A synthetic enamel in powdered from can be used to fill the depression, then fused to the enamel, restoring the tooth to its normal form. The fused material should be more resistant to decay than the natural tooth structure.

Dental applications for lasers have been studied for more than 20 years, Dr. Willenborg said. More clinical research will have to be done before lasers are widely accepted by the dental profession.

Cardon dioxide lasers are effective in totally eradicating decay, but much heat is generated in the process -- heat that can destroy the pulp of the tooth. Dr. Willenborg has used extracted teeth to study the effects of excimer lasers, which operate at a smaller wavelength than carbon dioxide lasers.

"Excimer lasers are capable, theoretically, of being applied to a very specific area on the tooth surface," Dr. Willenborg said, "resulting in little absorption of the laser by the pulp."

Surgical uses of lasers in the oral cavity include the removal of precancerous and malignant soft tissue lesions and of diseased gum tissue.

In addition to correcting oral pathology lasers can be employed to record study models of a patient's teeth. The technique, known as holography, creates dimensional plates, thus eliminating the problem of storing clay models. Holographic records of study models can be stored on disks the size of a silver dollar.

"Almost anything we can do with mechanics," Dr. Willenborg concluded, "can also be done with energy from light."
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Publication:Nutrition Health Review
Date:Mar 22, 1989
Words:382
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