January 22, 2008 / 6:53 PM / 12 years ago

Laser may help reverse gum disease

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Laser therapy for severe gum disease may help regenerate the diseased tissue that normally secures the teeth, a small study suggests.

Researchers found that among six patients who had one tooth treated with a laser and another by traditional means, the laser-treated tooth showed evidence of new connective tissue growing within the gums around the tooth.

The findings add to evidence that laser-assisted therapy is a viable alternative to traditional treatment of severe gum disease, according to the researchers, led by Dr. Raymond A. Yukna of the Louisiana State University School of Dentistry in New Orleans.

The study was funded by Millennium Dental Technologies, which makes the laser used in the study; the company also has a patent on the treatment protocol the researchers followed — known as the laser-assisted new attachment procedure, or LANAP.

The study included six patients with moderate to severe periodontitis, an infection of the gums that causes the gums to pull away from the teeth and form infected “pockets.” Over time, the bones and connective tissue supporting teeth can wear away and cause tooth loss.

Dentists often treat periodontitis with a technique called scaling and root planing, in which bacteria-harboring tartar is removed from the teeth above and below the gums, and rough spots on the roots of the affected teeth are pared down to remove the bacteria that dwell there.

In some cases, they turn to surgery, which involves lifting back the gums to remove tartar, then suturing the gums back into place so that the tissue fits tightly against the teeth again.

Laser surgery has in recent years been considered a possible alternative to traditional surgery; the LANAP approach was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2004.

The laser works by first clearing diseased tissue and killing bacteria between the teeth and gums; tartar is removed with an ultrasound instrument. The laser is then passed through the diseased pockets again to encourage blood clotting, which helps seal the gum tissue to the teeth.

For their study, published in the International Journal of Periodontics & Restorative Dentistry, Yukna’s team treated each patient with two approaches. One affected tooth was treated with traditional scaling and root planing only, and a second was treated with LANAP.

Three months later, all of the laser-treated teeth showed evidence of new connective tissue attachments and regeneration of tissue covering the tooth root. The traditionally treated teeth, by comparison, did not.

Since LANAP is a specific treatment procedure, the findings may not pertain to all laser therapies for gum disease, according to Yukna and his colleagues. Laser treatment that does not follow all of the same steps might not bring the same results, they write.

SOURCE: International Journal of Periodontics & Restorative Dentistry, November/December 2007.

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