The oral-systemic connection is a new charge for our profession. By offering a paradigm shift in how healthcare professionals look at pathogens and disease processes affecting overall health, the connection between oral health and overall systemic health has opened doors for collaboration between the dental and medical communities. Let me correct myself: The doors are now flung open, and there’s no shutting them. As dentists, we are aware of the importance of oral health. After all, we are dedicated professionals whose careers focus on this. We should be proud, but also humble because there is still so much that we do not know. And, we, as dentists and researchers, are just beginning to prove connections with scientific certainty. The oral-systemic connection is the next frontier in which dentistry and research are expanding, and that makes me proud of my profession and involvement with lasers.
Laser Light Can Help Manage Healthcare Concerns
Prevention and early intervention are always the most desired and affordable routes to maintaining health. This is of particular concern as the world’s healthcare is in a crisis with pharmaceutical dependency and escalating costs. Light-based medicine and light-based dentistry can play a leading role in helping manage some of these issues. Imagine what having the following clinical abilities could mean to your patients and your practice:
- detecting disease by simply shining a light
- eliminating pharmaceuticals in the management of pain by using light to inhibit pain receptors
- treating medical conditions by stimulating body cells to repair themselves
- managing infections with the bactericidal effects of light-based therapy
- stimulating stem cell growth just by applying photonic energy
It’s not science fiction. Fortunately, others have already imagined these possibilities and brought them to reality. We truly live in amazing times; yet we have barely scratched the surface in completely understanding and appreciating the potentials of laser energy.
The Laser-Systemic Connection: It’s Real
While other dental industry entities are trying virtually everything they can to insert themselves into the oral-systemic conversation, the Academy of Laser Dentistry (ALD) is simply reminding the profession of its past oral-systemic track record while forging ahead with innovative new education programs that highlight the latest medically relevant applications for laser technology.
One of the most prominent examples of the ALD mission for improving oral health is the planning for 2019’s Academy of Laser Dentistry’s 26th annual meeting from April 4 to April 6 in Dallas. The meeting theme is “The Laser-Systemic Link: Lighting the Way to a Healthier Mouth and Body.” The ALD is setting the tone by having one of the nation’s leading physician advocates for dental-medical collaboration, Charles Whitney, MD, present the keynote address. Dr. Whitney’s medical practice specializes in heart attack, stroke, and dementia prevention and relies on collaboration with dental clinicians to accurately diagnose and effectively treat periodontal disease, which he describes as a medical condition that physicians can’t treat.
In tandem with decades of published research, laser dental professionals have been addressing periodontal disease by offering an alternative approach. Countless clinical case studies suggest improved results of periodontal treatment with the adjunctive use of a laser. No single laser wavelength is superior in managing all aspects of this multifactorial disease process. Like all instruments and devices, lasers of different wavelengths come with advantages and disadvantages. The science behind laser-tissue interaction demonstrates that different wavelengths will have varying effects, and this is where appropriate training is paramount. The marketplace has been responsive in research and developments to improve these devices.
Where lasers may have once been a technology looking for problems to solve, they have evolved into a technology that is tackling specific issues and specializing modalities in order to effectively address them. The marketplace has also become more competitive, often touting selective claims of superiority for specific wavelengths or devices. For those practitioners new to the field of lasers, it can be a confusing landscape. The ALD is committed to an open-minded and commercially unbiased perspective in having inclusive, rather than exclusive, discussions, thereby continually pushing the envelope of possibilities toward improving the health and well-being of our patients. We invite all dental professionals to join us in this quest.
The conference offers several courses and hands-on workshops focused on this subject, including “Closed Flap Periodontal Surgery,” by Dr. Samuel Low (a Diplomate of the American Board of Periodontology and past president of the American Association of Periodontology), and “Using Light Therapy to Treat Peri-Implantitis & Surgical Complications,” by Dr. Ed Kusek (a Fellow of the American Academy of Implant Dentistry and a Diplomate of the International Congress of Oral Implantologists).
Shedding New Light on the Opioid Epidemic
The systemic health impact of laser dentistry is much more than halting oral infections. There are many other applications that are rapidly emerging as standards of care. One of the most promising is the use of photobiomodulation (PBM), which is the use of low-powered lasers to help manage pain. My colleague, Dr. Gerald Ross, wrote an informative article for dentistrytoday.com in May 2018 on PBM in action that explains how he reduced the need for opioids by using PBM after oral surgery. PBM is successfully used in a variety of applications, including treating TMJ and oral mucositis—a debilitating side effect of some cancer treatments. In fact, the ALD is closely collaborating with the World Association for Laser Therapy to establish cross-disciplinary protocols so that the healing benefits of PBM can be delivered on a much broader level, involving oncologists, nurse practitioners, etc, at the same clinics where cancer treatment is occurring.
A primary focus of each ALD conference brings together researchers and practitioners with the same common goal: doing what’s best for our patients. We will continue to build the bridges between dentistry and other healthcare providers during ALD 2019 in Dallas. What’s more, the finer clinical points of introducing PBM into a dental practice will be covered at ALD 2019 during a hands-on workshop conducted by 3 of the world’s leading PBM practitioners: Dr. Gerald Ross (Canada), Dr. Mel Burchman (USA), and Dr. Arun Darbar (UK).
The Youngest Beneficiaries of the Laser-Systemic Connection
There is a growing sweet spot between lasers and pediatric dentistry—especially when it comes to the treatment of tethered oral tissues (TOTs). Laser technology in skilled hands can provide a less invasive surgical intervention that can release tongue and lip tissues that might be preventing a child from breastfeeding, breathing efficiently, or sleeping—all of which can have a damaging effect on physical and neurological development. In addition, TOTs often cause delayed or impaired speech development, which can have long-lasting effects on a child’s education, socialization, and self-esteem.
A full-day Saturday Pediatric Symposium: Lasers in the Pediatric Setting – TOTs, will be conducted by Lawrence Kotlow, DDS, on April 6 during ALD 2019. Dr. Kotlow is one of the world’s leading pediatric dentistry laser practitioners, creator of the maxillary frenum classification system, and author of SOS 4 TOTS (The Troy Book Makers, 2016). Course topics include “All Tissue Lasers and the Pediatric Dentist” and “Releasing Tethered Oral Tissues with Lasers.” I highly recommend these courses to any pediatric or family practice dentist.
For the ALD, 2019 is the year of “The Laser-Systemic Connection.” Now more than ever, collaboration, cooperation, and open-minded curiosity are essential in helping bridge the oral-systemic gap. As society continues to demand less invasive treatments, minimizing iatrogenic injury to accomplish a specific goal, light-based technology is perfectly poised to provide such direction. I invite you to join our discussions in Dallas and find out more during our annual conference in April. For more information, visit laserdentistry.org/index.cfm/conference.
Dr. Mastis currently serves as president of the Academy of Laser Dentistry (ALD) and has been using lasers since 2000. She is recognized with an ALD Mastership status and has served the Academy as the education and certification committee chair, laser safety committee chair, and past conference committee chair. Dr. Mastis has 18 lasers of various wavelengths in her private practice, Michigan Cosmetic and Laser Dentistry, in St. Clair Shores, Mich. She holds ALD Standard Proficiency certifications in Er:YAG; diode; Er,Cr:YSGG; and CO2 laser wavelengths, and Advanced Proficiency recognition in the Er:YAG wavelength. Dr. Mastis is a 1987 graduate from the University of Illinois College of Dentistry, a Fellow of the AGD and an active member of the ADA. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclosure: Dr. Mastis reports no disclosures.