However, as dental technology has advanced, new treatment methods have been developed that remove the need for this invasive kind of surgery. By using lasers instead of scalpels, patients receive periodontitis treatment in a whole new way.
Many people are a little unsure about laser gum surgery. It seems like a mysterious, unfamiliar, futuristic technology to some. Obviously, this can generate a bit of anxiety about the treatment. How does it work? Does it hurt? Will my insurance cover it?
In this article, we are going to answer many of the common questions people have about laser gum surgery to help provide some clarity on this new and exciting procedure.
Why Does Periodontitis Require Surgery at All?
Let’s start with the cause of the problem before we get into the details of the surgery. There are three stages of gum disease, periodontitis is the second stage.
Gum Disease – Stage 1 Gingivitis
Gingivitis is the most common form of gum disease. For the vast majority of people, the symptoms are noticed at this stage, and then treatment is carried out. There are a wide range of symptoms that you should look out for (but the main ones are bleeding and receding gums).
Gingivitis can be treated without the need for surgery because at this stage, the disease has not spread underneath the gum line. Gingivitis is almost always caused by an improper dental hygiene routine. (Proper brushing and flossing is the best way to prevent yourself from contracting gum disease.)
If you want the gory details, gum disease is caused by a build up of plaque. Plaque is usually removed with proper brushing and flossing, but if it is not removed, it starts to turn into tartar. Tartar is much harder than plaque and can only be removed by a professional dental cleaning. Tartar has a rough abrasive surface, which makes it a magnet for further plaque build up.
If this build up is not removed, then one (of the many issues) that can be encountered is the first stage of gum disease, Gingivitis. Specifically, it is brought about by the ever increasing amount of bacteria in the plaque which multiplies consistently.
If the symptoms of Gingivitis are caught reasonably quickly, the condition can be treated easily with over the counter mouthwash and a good professional cleaning by your dentist. This is because at this stage, the plaque and tartar causing the issue are only present above the gum line, which means removal is quick and easy.
However, when the plaque build up starts to entrench itself under the gum line, things get much more serious. At this point, the condition has progressed to the second stage of gum disease, Periodontitis.
Gum Disease Stage 2 – Periodontitis
Despite being classed as a second stage of the disease, the actual processes that are taking place are reasonably similar to stage 1. Plaque is being built up, turning into tartar, and bacteria are breeding that advance the disease. The only difference is that it is happening beneath the gum line. This means that now it cannot be accessed (and removed) without surgery.
The symptoms are largely similar to Gingivitis, but when gum disease reaches the periodontitis stage, the damage being caused is irreparable. The fibrous tissues in your gums, and the bones that support your teeth are being damaged. This leads to wobbly teeth and takes the patient one step closer to probable tooth loss in the very near future.
Gum Disease Stage 3 – Advanced Periodontitis
As the cycle of plaque and tartar build up continues, the severity of the disease gets worse. There is not much more to say about the condition that you probably have not already guessed from reading the progression above. Teeth are incredibly loose and wobbly at this stage, tooth loss is imminent (or has already happened). At this point, invasive surgery is immediately required.
So What Is Laser Gum Surgery? And What Makes It Better Than Traditional Treatments?
So as we briefly mentioned at the start of this article, the traditional method of treating periodontitis is an invasive procedure called gum flap surgery. The dentist cuts a flap in the gum above each individual tooth, cleans away the plaque, and tartar, and then closes the flap back up. As you can imagine, this is a reasonably large procedure and needs to be performed on the whole mouth.
The alternative has been brought about by advances in laser technology. Laser gum surgery, which is officially known as a Laser Assisted New Attachment Procedure (LANAP) removes the need for a scalpel entirely.
Before the treatment begins, Dr. Choi will conduct a full examination to determine the extent of the infection. LANAP is usually conducted throughout two separate appointments. One half of the mouth will be done first, and the second appointment (usually scheduled about a week later) will complete the other half of the mouth.
The procedure can be broken down into 3 main steps.
The first step is where a super thin laser is used (it’s the thickness of around 3 human hairs). The dentist will use the laser to remove the bacteria underneath the gum line and open a small section to allow cleaning to begin.
The cleaning phase is the second step, and instead of using a laser, a precision ultrasonic tool is used instead. During this part of the process, Dr. Choi will do two things. The first job is to remove all of the tartar and plaque that is producing bacteria. Once this has been done, he then looks for any rough spots that can encourage plaque formation. If rough spots are found, they are smoothed off.
Once the smoothing has been completed, the final stage is to seal the opening that has been made (to prevent bacteria and germs getting in and causing infection). This is again, facilitated by using a laser and is done by forming a natural blood clot at the top of the opening.
Because the procedure does not require a general anesthetic, once it has been completed, you will be free to go about your day as per normal. You may have a numb mouth for a few hours afterwards, but apart from that, you should experience no significant discomfort.
Slight swelling and bleeding is normal after the procedure, and occasionally a very small amount of pain is reported. If this is the case, Ibuprofen is often more than enough to remove it entirely.
After laser gum surgery, Dr. Choi will often advise you to not brush your teeth for 7 to 10 days to help the healing process. Smoking is strongly advised against and can significantly delay the healing process, potentially causing infection.
Despite LANAP being a new type of surgery, most patients find that they are covered for the procedure with their current dental insurance. This is because most insurers are not concerned with the tools that are used for the job (the laser), and instead, they cover the procedure (periodontitis treatment). However, make sure you double check with your insurance company before undergoing treatment.
LANAP is not currently recognized as a treatment method by the American Academy of Periodontology. They state that there is currently not enough evidence for them to ascertain that it is more beneficial than traditional treatment options. However, it is our opinion that it is just a matter of time before LANAP is officially accepted by the AAP. The real world evidence is growing rapidly, and thousands of patients are curing their periodontitis with laser gum surgery each and every day.
So there you have it, a brief overview of laser gum surgery. As you can hopefully see by now, LANAP is an extremely exciting new way of treating periodontitis (that would otherwise require invasive surgery). The benefits are obvious, immediate, and LANAP makes the previous treatment method of using gum flap surgery seem rather archaic in comparison.
Dr. Choi is one of the finest board-certified surgeons in the state of Texas and has extensive experience with this treatment method. If you have any questions or would like to learn more about Dr. Choi and his team – they are always happy to help. Why not give them a call at 214-592-0692 to see how they can help you, and your family have some of the brightest, whitest, and healthiest teeth in Texas.