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Laser dentistry: A patient's perspective on pain-free treatment

Oct. 26, 2017
While dental lasers have helped advance treatment, not until recently have patients felt the benefit—literally. In this interview, Tina Cressman describes her experience in receiving anesthesia-free caries treatment from Dr. Yooson Kim, who utilizes the Solea CO2 laser from Convergent Dental.

Above: Dr. Yooson Kim of Family Dentistry of Morgantown performs laser dental treatment

WITH THE ADVENT OF LASER DENTISTRY, dental treatment has undergone profound changes. Since the mid-90s, DentistryIQ,its partner publications, and others have thoroughly chronicled advancements in dental lasers, which have allowed for new treatment and better outcomes. But amidst the exciting technological changes, the patient experience has been largely overlooked. Perhaps that's because dental lasers didn't have an appreciable impact on the patient experience—until now. With the introduction of the 9.3 µm CO2 laser, dental patients are experiencing anesthesia-free treatment and new levels of comfort. Treatments are more convenient, and comparable costs are comparable. In fact, it's no exaggeration to say the CO2 laser has the potential to change age-old conceptions (and phobias) about visiting the dentist. In other words, it's possible that the association of a dentist and a drill will soon be relegated to the annals of medical history.

An example of the new dental experience can be found in the story of Tina Cressman, a 48-year-old Pennsylvanian. In 2010, Cressman underwent multiple procedures over the course of 20 dental visits thanks to five unexpected cavities. Ongoing complicaions left Cressman with a fear of any future dental work. But a twist of fate landed her in the office of a new dentist, Yooson Kim, DDS, who had integrated a Solea 9.3 µm CO2 laser into her treatment workflow. When Cressman was diagnosed with further tooth decay, Dr. Kim presented her with the choice of pain-free laser treatment . . .

For the rest of the story, read our interview with Cressman and Dr. Kim below.

Interview with Tina Cressman and Yooson Kim, DDS

Above: Tina Cressman and Dr. Yooson Kim, DDS

DIQ: Thank you for talking with us about your laser dental experience. Tina, could you tell us a bit about your oral health history?

Tina: I actually have had an interesting experience with going to the dentist. As a child and a teenager, I never missed a dental visit. I religiously went to my dentist every six months—the same dentist I had gone to for my entire life. Fast forward into my adulthood . . . when my husband and I moved, I was forced to find a new dentist. Upon examination and review of my records, my new dentist informed me that I “all of a sudden” had five cavities. Unfortunately, we discovered that these were all existing cavities that were never addressed by my prior dentist.

Immediately, the five cavities were filled the “traditional way.” Three of the cavities were so severe that I had to get root canals done and crowns applied. I had to have roughly 20 dental visits within nine months because of complications incurred due to neglect. It was a difficult time in my life. Between the time taken off from work, the needles, the numbness, the grinding of the drill, and the post-op healing time, the procedures were excruciating for me. My new dentist at that time (who was not Dr. Kim), did one procedure at a time trying to spread it out so that it wasn’t so grueling for me. He eventually referred me to a specialist.

DIQ: You started seeing Dr. Kim in 2010. Before Dr. Kim used a laser on you, it sounds like you were really apprehensive about seeing the dentist.

Tina: I started seeing Dr. Kim because I had a dental emergency. My dentist was on vacation and my husband suggested I go see his doctor, who was Dr. Kim. Switching to Dr. Kim turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Was I apprehensive? Absolutely! After that kind of history, the grinding of the teeth, the sound of the drill, the needles, the skin grafting, the pain, all of those things . . . you get to a point where you actually put off your own health. In this case, it was my teeth because of the fear of what the next awful procedure will be.

DIQ: When did Dr. Kim approach you about the option of using a laser for treatment?

Tina: In February of 2016, I was scheduled to have a deep filling done. I was dreading the appointment because, as far as I knew, I was going in to have it drilled and filled the traditional way. I scheduled time off of work and had a nervous stomach the whole drive there and in the waiting room.

For people who really fear needles, this anxiety and fear is felt well before the appointment. I was literally sick to my stomach. While waiting in the office, all sorts of crazy thoughts ran through my mind about what was to come. They called me in, and I sat in the chair. Dr. Kim came in and said, “Good morning.” She then said, “So you’re here today to have this filling done. I have a new machine. It’s called the Solea laser. It’s FDA-approved, and I’m one of the only dentists in this area that has this right now.” She basically said that she could fill my cavity without any Novacain. After she said that, I don’t really remember anything else because that’s all I needed to hear to put me at ease!

Dr. Kim: Establishing trust with patients is paramount for all dentists. It makes treatment planning easier and smooths the way for introducing new technology to patients.

DIQ: So, Tina, you thought, "The part of the procedure that I dread the most is eliminated?”

Tina: I said, “Wait a minute, you mean you’re going to put this new device in my mouth, you can fix my cavity, and I don’t even have to get a shot today?” And Dr. Kim said, “Yes, you don’t have to get any shots today.” At this point, she had been working in my mouth for many years, and I had a good relationship with her. If Dr. Kim says it’s FDA-approved and I won’t feel any pain and I don’t need a needle, I trust in her, so I felt good about the decision to use the Solea laser.

DIQ: How did the procedure go?

Tina: Well, she said, “We’re going to be working with the laser and we’re going to run water with it. You’ll be able to feel your bite afterwards, and you’ll feel no numbness afterwards.” She went in, and 15 minutes later it was done!

Before the procedure, you don’t know what to expect. As I’m lying there, I’m a bit apprehensive, thinking, “OK, at some point here there’s going to be some kind of pain. It’s going to hurt.” I just kept bracing myself because I know how this goes, and just like that she said, “We’re done!” And I looked at her and said, “Wait, you’re done in my mouth?” And she said,“Yup, we’re all finished.” And I was in total disbelief. She said, “How does your bite feel?” And I said, “It’s perfect. I can feel my bite and I have absolutely no pain!”

Dr. Kim: Tina is very honest and open about her experiences and expectations. I know dental visits provoke great anxiety for her. She usually gets herself worked up. With Solea, the procedure is over before she has a chance to even get anxious.

Above: Dr. Kim provides treatment with the Solea CO2 laser

DIQ: Tina, you say you felt no pain. You must have felt some sort of sensation, correct?

Tina: It’s just a light sensation. I felt some cooling. They’re working in your mouth, and you’re aware that they’re doing something, but it’s just different because you don’t have the pain from the needle, you don’t have to sit there and wait to be numb, and you don’t have to wait for another needle. You don’t have to worry halfway through that you’re going to go "un-numb" and have to get more anesthesia. That’s what I kept waiting for. I kept thinking, “There’s going to be some kind of big jolt.” When she said that we were done, I remember feeling a huge sense of relief—and I had no pain! I just sat there thinking “I’m done, wow . . . what a totally different experience from the traditional method of cavity filling.”

Dr. Kim: Patients feel air and cool mist, but it is not pain. Solea works to prep cavity treatment. It has an anesthetic effect so that patients do not feel the cavity prep or fillings being placed. At the same time, patients are not numb, so they can feel their bite, talk normally, eat and drink, and just go on with daily routines right away.

DIQ: What about the sound of the laser?

Tina: I don’t recall anything that was totally awful. It wasn’t like that grinding drill sound, but you do hear the tools running. Dr. Kim’s doing her work and using the foot pedal, and the water is running and the suction is going—all those normal sounds you expect to hear. It wasn’t anything like the traditional drill, or what I like to call the “jackhammer” chiseling and grinding your tooth. It was nothing like that at all.

DIQ: Did anything surprise you about the laser treatment?

Tina: You know, everybody has a busy schedule nowadays. With my job, time is very valuable. I took time from work and came in late, but I was able to get right on the phone, have conversations with people, have my lunch, and not worry about biting my lip or slurred speech. To me, it was huge that I could have dental work done and then jump right back into my daily activities without any discomfort or inconvenience.

Dr. Kim: When I’m done with the laser procedures, I love seeing the expression on my patients’ faces when I can say, "You are finished. You can eat and drink right away, and there are no restrictions."

DIQ: Tina, would you recommend this treatment to your family and friends?

Tina: Absolutely! I share my story with anyone who says they have an upcoming dental appointment. At one point, my daughter had to have eight cavities filled, and they were all done traditionally. It is so hard for us to see our children in pain. After my Solea experience, I know my kids will never have to experience those needles or that type of pain again. I couldn’t wait to go home and tell my husband about my experience with the Solea laser and how he wouldn’t have to experience needles again. At lunch the other day I was talking about it, and a few of my coworkers were like, “Where is your dentist located? I have to check out this new machine.”

DIQ: We're glad you had a great experience. Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Tina: I think it’s worth mentioning that a concern that most of us have is when something new hits the market, especially technology, we think it’s going to be pricey. Then we ask ourselves, “Can we afford it?” I wondered how much more expensive this treatment would cost when compared to traditional treatment. Much to my surprise, I did not notice any increase in what I owed my dentist because of this laser procedure. So if people think it’s going to cost more, that’s not necessarily the case. People are always watching their purse, and I think that for dentists it’s important to know that your patients are not going to be hit with a big bill because of your new services. I don’t know how other dentists bill for this service, but it didn’t seem to have any great impact on my insurance bills.

I don’t mean to keep backtracking on my dental history, but it’s a huge part of why I’m such a fan of the Solea laser. I’m just so grateful that it has provided me with a whole new outlook on any future dental issues for me and my family. We won’t be having any more traditional fillings done and will always welcome the Solea laser.

Dr. Kim: Solea is truly amazing. It also works great with children. As Tina said, children will never have to face the fear of needles and injections. Most of the battle when treating children is getting them numb. Even if you are successful in getting them numb, you may not be able to do the procedures because they are too emotional and won't open their mouth again. Solea makes it so there is no battle at all and makes these visits more fun for all of us. Solea is great with adults, too, especially those who have had traumatic dental experiences, like Tina. Patients truly appreciate the Solea laser experience. There is no more anxiety, fear, or dreadful numbing sensation lingering after. Why should anyone voluntarily go to a non-Solea dentist when you can actually enjoy your dental experience with Solea? I do believe Solea is a paradigm shift for dentistry.

Editor's note:This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Disclosures: Dr. Kim is a compensated key opinion leader for Convergent Dental, makers of the Solea laser.

Editor's note: This article first appeared in the Apex360 e-newsletter. Apex360 is a DentistryIQ partner publication for dental practitioners and members of the dental industry. Its goal is to provide timely dental information and present it in meaningful context, empowering those in the dental space to make better business decisions.

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