By Suzanne Vila, RDH, PHDHP
I have been a registered dental hygienist for almost thirty years. For the last twenty years, my clinical practice focus has been in periodontal practice, where we treat patients who have a gum infection called periodontitis. Although my job is to perform a non-surgical treatment called scaling and root planing, I have always been interested in more advanced treatments for gum disease like gum surgery.
Throughout my career, I have explained surgical treatments to patients, observed periodontal surgeries, and treated patients for maintenance post-surgery. Traditionally, periodontal surgery involves incisions and sutures (stitches) to achieve the success of ridding the gums of disease and promoting healing of the infected oral structures.
Although surgery is necessary for oral health and overall health for patients who have active gum disease, it can be painful because access to the infected areas has traditionally been invasive. Typically, the periodontist makes incisions in the gums with a scalpel, lays the tissue back to be able to see, cleans out the infection, and then reconnects everything with sutures. Observing a periodontal surgery is quite a graphic scene because gums are cut, flapped away from the jawbone, and there is often a lot of blood.
Over my many years of explaining the need for surgery, patients have almost always expressed their anxiety about the pain and discomfort. Nobody likes to think about their gums being cut! As a truly empathetic practitioner, I feel for them. I know that the first two weeks after surgery involve stitches and discomfort. I always wished there was an alternative.
Well, there is! It is called laser periodontal therapy.
WHAT IS LASER PERIODONTAL THERAPY?
Recently, I visited Pennsylvania Center for Periodontology in Enola, PA to discuss laser periodontal therapy with Dr. C. Michael Fullem, DMD. Because Dr. Fullem is one of the top periodontists and implant specialists in Central PA, I wanted his opinion about the latest laser procedures.
The first day that I visited Dr Fullem, he told me about the latest type of laser, the PERIOLASE® MVP-7™ that uses digital technology and seven pulse durations, which make it more versatile than traditional dental lasers. He told me that lasers can achieve results similar to and sometimes better than traditional surgery without incisions.
What? No need for cutting and sewing? Tell me more!
Intrigued, I wanted to learn more about the treatment, how it differs from traditional surgery, and how it compares in terms of treatment success. I also wanted to know what patients thought of this type of laser treatment for their gum disease. So, I decided to do some research and observation.
Dr. Fullem invited me to observe a procedure called LANAP®, which stands for Laser Assisted Regeneration. This treatment protocol offers a successful and less painful alternative to traditional gum surgeries. Dr. Fullem sent me a wealth of information about the treatment before I arrived to observe. He told me that there would be no cutting, no sutures, and virtually no pain for the patient.
I could not wait to see this for myself!
When I observed Dr. Fullem complete the laser procedure, this is what I saw:
Dr. Fullem numbed the patient’s mouth so he was comfortable but the patient was awake through the entire procedure.
After the patient was sufficiently numb, Dr. Fullem started the procedure by gently placing the laser tip, which projects a laser that is smaller than two hair widths, under the gums. Seriously, the laser is so tiny and just looks like a fine pen!
While he was lasering the pockets, I saw extraordinarily little bleeding! Compared to my past observations of dental surgeries, I could not believe how gentle this procedure appeared. There were no incisions, just a laser gently placed into the pockets, especially the deepest one with the most infection.
Dr. Fullem made three rounds with the laser. The last round seals the treated area, which results in almost no bleeding. In traditional surgery, the end of the procedure would result in a lot of sutures and gauze. For this procedure, the patient did not need more than one small gauze to wipe his mouth.
After completing the procedure, the patient got up out of the dental care, smiled, and was talking to Dr. Fullem and his surgical assistant about after-care instructions.
That was it!
COULD IT BE THIS EASY?
After viewing the procedure, I wondered if the laser therapy was in fact as easy as it looked. Because I wondered, “Was it that easy for Dr. Fullem?” and “Was it easier for the patient?” I had to learn more.
So, I talked to Dr. Fullem, who confirmed that although it is a surgical procedure, it is much easier for him than traditional surgery because he does not have to cut the gums, can work more easily because there is practically no bleeding, and he does not have to suture the gums.
He also mentioned that patients have been giving him positive feedback after laser treatment. Because I have always valued patient feedback, I hoped that some patients would be willing to talk to me about their experience.
Not only were patients willing to talk to me about their laser surgery experience, but they were also EAGER to tell me about it because their experience was so positive! Wow, in all my years in the dental world, I have rarely encountered patients who are EXCITED to talk about their dental visits. So, I was thrilled to talk to them!
THE PATIENT TESTIMONIALS
Several patients gave Dr. Fullem permission for me to contact them. I called two of them, one who had a single tooth treated with laser therapy and the other who had half of her mouth treated.
Both patients were happy to tell me about their experience and gave me permission to write about it. Although I told both of them that I would not use their names, one of the patients asked me to use her name because she was so satisfied with her treatment.
Here are some of the highlights of my interviews:
- Patient #1:
This particular patient had one tooth that gave her pain for 3 months before visiting the PA Perio Center. After talking to a friend who referred her to Dr. Fullem, she decided to make an appointment.
She told me that she was nervous, but that Dr. Fullem was “very gentle and explains everything.”
Her thoughts about the procedure were that it was “a piece of cake” and that “it was nothing!” She mentioned that during the procedure she did not feel anything and that Dr. Fullem applied a bite block so that she would not have to hold her mouth open, which was helpful.
She said that the laser procedure treated one tooth that was periodontally involved and that the procedure was fast and painless. Immediately following the procedure, she went home and followed the after-care instructions. She was so glad to have no stitches!
She told me that the day after treatment, she did not even know anything had been done because she had no pain. In fact, she went on vacation 3 days after her laser treatment!
- Patient #2:
This patient talked to me after having one side of her mouth treated with the laser surgery protocol called LANAP®. She was scheduled to get the other side treated a week after our phone call.
This patient, who asked me to include her name, Tania, told me about her history of gum disease and that she had traditional gum surgery many years ago. Unfortunately, she came to Dr. Fullem because the disease was actively destroying her gums and jawbone again, which was putting her oral health and overall health at risk.
Although she knew she would probably need gum surgery again, she was hesitant because her previous surgical experience had been painful. She admitted to me that she has a low pain threshold and that most dental procedures are uncomfortable for her.
Even after Dr. Fullem explained the laser procedure, she was still nervous about pain but chose to schedule the treatment. As she told me, she was so glad she did because although she was expecting pain, it was nothing like she had experienced in the past.
She said the procedure was painless and that the post-operative experience was only a “dull pain for 3 or 4 days” and was totally different from the traditional surgery of her past, after which she was in “pain, swollen, and on the couch for days,” which had kept her from working after that first surgery experience.
Tania said that laser gum treatment is “totally different” from traditional surgery because recovery from laser treatment is fast and she was able to resume activities the next day! She told me that she only took ibuprofen, had one day of soreness, and had no swelling.
Tania was so excited to tell me not only how quickly she recovered, but also how quickly her gums recovered. She raved about how much better her treated side looked and was eager to get the other side treated.
The most important point that Tania wanted to make to me was that laser was so great for her because of the absence of pain. As a small business owner, she said that she cannot afford to be out of work for a week because of pain.
She stressed that being able to complete gum surgery with soreness instead of pain is a “big deal” and was why she wants others to know.
As a periodontal hygienist, I want patients to accept treatment to keep their teeth, improve their oral health, and maintain good overall health. After decades of conversations with patients who told me about their anxieties about gum surgery, hearing from two of Dr. Fullem’s patients who were thrilled to tell me about their easy laser treatments was a pleasant surprise!
I wish I could shout from the rooftops about how great laser gum therapy is, but instead, I blog! I hope my words inspire you to investigate your own risks for periodontal disease and discuss it with your dentist.
And if you do need periodontal treatment, contact Dr. Fullem and his team at 717-972-0031 today for a consultation about laser therapy!