Who Needs Anesthesia?

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Times Herald Record
March 03, 2004
Local health briefs

Who needs anesthesia?
A dentist armed with a Novocain-loaded needle in one hand, a drill in the other.
Are you done cringing? Now, scratch that image.
Thanks to new technology, it’s now possible to take care of a cavity without a drill – and without anesthesia.
Ouch, you say?

A little device called an erbium laser makes it all possible, according to Dr. Donato Napoletano of Donato Dental in Middletown. Napoletano introduced the laser to his East Main Street practice in January and, so far, it’s wowed his patients. He’s treated with the laser more than 100 teeth in 40-plus mouths, all without anesthesia. Out of those patients, only four had discomfort during the procedure, and only one of those people said they wanted anesthesia next time, he says.

Part of the laser’s no-pain effectiveness can be traced to the tooth’s nerve. The laser’s high-pitched counterpart, the drill, spins at 400,000 RPM and can increase nerve temperatures more than 20 degrees centigrade, Napoletano says. The laser, on the other hand, not only doesn’t raise nerve temperatures, but it can decrease them by 5 degrees centigrade, acting as a numbing agent, he says.

Napoletano, who was inspired to look into this dental technology after receiving laser treatment to correct his vision, says there are multiple benefits to the erbium laser. For instance, for the faint of heart, there’s no nightmare-inducing drill noise; it’s replaced with a soft popping noise instead.

The laser is less traumatic to the tooth, too, as the drill and its vibrations can cause microcracks in the tooth. Also, the less invasive nature of the laser allows for more preservation of healthy tooth structures than possible with the drill.

Napoletano notes the laser works especially well with kids and anyone with needle and drill fears. It’s also good for people who hate the numb feeling anesthesia brings.

But the laser isn’t practical in all cases, Napoletano says. Cavities that have reached an advanced stage or that reside under an existing filling (and the filling needs to be removed), aren’t treatable with the laser, he says. Other drawbacks include a longer cavity prep time for the patient and a less-effective removal of tooth enamel and dentin than with the drill.

But if you have early-stage cavities, and the thought of a needle-and-drill routine keeps you up at night, consider your options.

For more information about erbium laser treatments, call Donato Dental, 450 E. Main St., at 342-6444.

Published March 3, 2004

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