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Shining a light on root canals.

Shining a light on root canals

Does the dentist's drill frighten you? How about a laser beam in your mouth? Lasers may prove to be a valuable and safe tool in root canal therapy, say University of Alberta researchers.

In a standard root canal procedure, the nerve-containing pulp in the center of the tooth is scraped out and replaced with a rubbery material. But sometimes the small opening at the base of the tooth where the never exits isn't completely sealed off and acid-producing bacteria congregate in the area. The acid can cause an abscess by eating away at the surrounding bone and soft tissue, triggering painful inflammation.

Enter the laser. Experimenting on extracted human teeth, the Edmonton researchers have used high-power carbon dioxide lasers to fuse enamel plugs at the base of the root, and have also found that short bursts of laser energy, raising the surface temperature to 1,100[deg.]C, can sterilize and glaze the walls of the reamed-out canal. The researchers reported on their work last week at the American Association for Dental Research meeting in Washington, D.C.

A crucial step in developing the process for us in actual patients is to develop a small laser generator and a beam-directing device that can fit in the mouth. The Canadian team has recently developed and begun testing a systm that uses a mirror to guide the beam into a small handpiece, and a genertor that fits in two small suitcases.

They expect that the process, still several years from human use, will be safe. "In my opinion, it won't be any more dangerous than a scalpel," says Douglas N. Dederich, a dentist and engineer working on the project.

It an abscess hasn't already formed and the tooth is not yet badly infected, a properly done conventional root canal is painless, says Kenneth Zakaraisen, another of the researchers. The laser won't change that situation, he says, but it may be better able to prevent the recurrence of an abscess.
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Title Annotation:use of lasers in root canal therapy
Author:Silberner, Joanne
Publication:Science News
Date:Mar 22, 1986
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