Laser gum surgery, also known as laser periodontal therapy, is a treatment option for gum disease like gingivitis and periodontitis. It uses laser energy to remove diseased gum tissue and fight bacterial infection. But is undergoing this high-tech procedure worth the cost and recovery time? Here’s an in-depth look at the pros and cons of laser gum surgery.
What is laser gum surgery?
Laser gum surgery is a minimally invasive treatment that uses laser energy to remove gum tissue infected by bacteria. It can be used to treat all stages of gum disease. The laser light targets and destroys bacterial cells underneath the gums and around the teeth. This helps reduce inflammation and infection.
There are two main types of lasers used:
- Diode laser – penetrates deep below the gums to kill bacteria
- Nd:YAG laser – absorbs blood and coagulates tissue to control bleeding
In a typical procedure, the dentist will numb the gums with a local anesthetic. Then a tiny fiber optic tip is inserted below the gumline. Pulses of laser light are delivered to diseased pockets around each tooth. This removes infected tissue and kills bacteria.
Laser gum surgery is often performed along with conventional mechanical scaling and root planing. This procedure scrapes away buildup on teeth and smoothes rough spots that harbor bacteria. The laser can reach deeper pockets and disinfect areas that are difficult to access with traditional tools.
What are the benefits of laser gum surgery?
There are several potential advantages to choosing laser gum surgery over conventional non-surgical treatments:
- More precise: The laser allows dentists to selectively target and remove diseased gum tissue while leaving healthy tissue intact.
- Reduced bleeding: Laser energy cauterizes as it cuts, sealing blood vessels and nerves to reduce bleeding and post-op discomfort.
- Minimally invasive: No scalpel or sutures are required, resulting in less trauma to gums.
- Faster healing: Studies show laser surgery leads to quicker healing, less swelling, and reduced pain compared to conventional surgery.
- Reduced bacteria: The laser disinfects periodontal pockets by killing anaerobic bacteria that cause infection.
- Increased accessibility: The slim fiber optic tip can reach areas under the gumline not accessible by dental instruments.
- Less tissue removal: Lasers allow dentists to remove just the diseased gum tissue and preserve more healthy tissue.
Patients generally experience less pain and faster recovery with laser gum surgery compared to conventional surgical options. There is less need for pain medication afterwards.
What are the risks and limitations?
While laser gum surgery offers some benefits, there are also some downsides to consider:
- High cost: Laser therapy typically costs more than traditional nonsurgical gum treatments.
- May still need follow-up procedure: If deep cleaning alone does not resolve gum disease, conventional flap surgery may still be required after laser treatment.
- Repeat treatments needed: Laser therapy may require multiple sessions spaced weeks apart to fully treat infected pockets.
- Not a cure: Laser gum surgery does not cure gum disease. Ongoing home care is required to prevent bacteria from returning.
- Risk of tooth and bone damage: Improper laser use can potentially damage teeth and supporting bone structures.
- No long-term studies: There is limited data on the long-term effectiveness of laser gum surgery.
Laser gum surgery should not be viewed as an alternative to good oral hygiene. Brushing, flossing, and professional cleanings are still needed to manage gum disease and prevent recurrence after laser treatment.
When is laser gum surgery recommended?
Laser therapy is often considered for patients with moderate to severe gum disease who do not respond adequately to conventional nonsurgical therapy. Ideal candidates include:
- Patients with deep gum pockets that are difficult to clean with dental instruments
- Patients with chronic gingivitis that persists despite good at-home care
- Patients with pregnancy gingivitis
- Patients wanting an alternative to conventional flap surgery
- Patients wanting minimal invasive treatment with faster healing
However, each case must be carefully evaluated. Laser gum surgery may not be appropriate for all patients and stages of gum disease. Your dentist can determine if you are a good candidate.
How much does laser gum surgery cost?
The cost of laser gum surgery varies depending on the extent of treatment needed. According to CostHelper Health, the average cost ranges between $500 and $1,200 per quadrant (one section of the mouth). However, fees can exceed $2,000 for more involved cases.
Laser gum surgery will cost more than traditional nonsurgical gum treatments like scaling and root planing. However, it may be cheaper than conventional flap surgery. Get a quote from your dentist for your specific case.
Dental insurance typically covers a portion of gum surgery costs if considered medically necessary. Speak to your insurance provider to find out your policy’s coverage details.
What is the recovery like after laser gum surgery?
The recovery period for laser gum surgery is shorter and less painful compared to conventional surgery. Still, you can expect:
- Swelling and bruising: Your gums may be sore, swollen, and bruised for several days after treatment. This is temporary.
- Bleeding: You may notice some minor bleeding for the first day or two.
- Sensitivity: Teeth may be sensitive to hot and cold temperatures.
- Medication: Over-the-counter pain relievers are usually recommended for discomfort.
- Dietary changes: Stick to soft foods for the first week. Avoid crunchy, spicy, or acidic foods that could irritate gums.
- Oral hygiene: Brush and floss gently. Avoid electric toothbrushes and water picks.
- Activity: Limit strenuous activity for the first few days.
Your dentist will provide detailed postoperative instructions. Symptoms should gradually improve within one to two weeks.
How effective is laser gum surgery?
Research indicates laser therapy may provide some benefits over traditional nonsurgical gum treatments:
- One 2013 review found lasers reduced gum pocket depth and led to gain of clinical attachment level compared to scaling and root planing alone.
- A 2018 study showed significant improvement in plaque index, gingival index, and bleeding after laser therapy.
- Lasers may more effectively kill bacteria associated with gum disease like P. gingivalis and A. actinomycetemcomitans, based on this 2015 review.
However, more long-term research is still needed. The American Dental Association says there is “minimal evidence” that lasers provide better outcomes compared to conventional gum surgery.
Success depends largely on the individual case and patient commitment. Laser gum surgery provides an opportunity for the gums to heal, but ongoing care is key to managing gum disease in the long run.
Are the results permanent?
Unfortunately, the results of laser gum surgery are not permanent in most cases. Gum disease is a chronic inflammatory condition. Even after laser treatment, the bacteria can return and lead to recurrence of symptoms if oral hygiene habits are not maintained.
However, when paired with good home care and professional cleanings, laser gum surgery can provide long-lasting results. Most patients see improvement for years when proper maintenance is kept up after the procedure.
Expect to follow up with your dentist every 3 months after laser therapy. Regular cleanings, brushing, and flossing are imperative. Quitting smoking is also critical for preventing gum disease from returning.
What are the alternatives to laser gum surgery?
Some alternatives to laser gum surgery include:
- Deep cleaning: Scaling and root planing is a nonsurgical deep cleaning below the gumline often tried first before resorting to lasers or surgery.
- Medications: Prescription antimicrobial mouth rinses or antibiotics may be used alongside mechanical debridement in some cases.
- Flap surgery: This conventional surgical option involves lifting back the gums to debride and reshape bone.
- Bone/tissue grafts: Grafts are sometimes needed to rebuild lost bone and gum tissue in advanced cases.
- Tooth extraction: Extractions may be necessary if periodontitis has caused too much damage for teeth to be saved.
Talk to your dentist about whether laser gum surgery, non-surgical therapy, or other options are most appropriate for you.
Questions for your dentist about laser gum surgery
Consider asking your dentist these questions if you are thinking about laser gum surgery:
- Am I a good candidate for laser therapy? Why or why not?
- What type of laser do you use? What are the risks and benefits?
- How many procedures will I need and how far apart?
- What kind of results can I expect in both the short and long term?
- How much does it cost with/without insurance?
- What is the recovery time and what activity restrictions apply?
- Will I need antibiotics or pain medication afterwards?
- How can I optimize the results through at-home oral hygiene?
The pros and cons of laser gum surgery
Here is a quick summary of the key benefits and drawbacks of laser gum surgery:
|Minimally invasive procedure||High out-of-pocket cost compared to nonsurgical options|
|Reduced bleeding and swelling||Multiple sessions may be required|
|Quicker recovery time||Still requires good oral hygiene to maintain results|
|Can reach areas difficult to access with instruments||May eventually still need flap surgery if disease is very advanced|
|Disinfects periodontal pockets||Limited long-term research is available|
|Removes only diseased tissue||Risk of tooth/bone damage if performed improperly|
|Reduces need for sutures and pain medication|
Laser gum surgery offers some advantages over conventional nonsurgical gum disease treatments. It can selectively remove infected gum tissue, kill bacteria, and stimulate healing. Patients experience less pain and faster recovery compared to traditional flap surgery.
However, laser treatment costs more than deep cleanings. It does not cure gum disease and requires ongoing maintenance. Multiple sessions may be needed for severe cases.
The bottom line is laser gum surgery provides an effective minimally invasive option for treating moderate to advanced gum disease. But it must be followed up with good oral hygiene and professional care to see lasting results. Talk to your periodontist to determine if laser therapy is right for your individual needs.