As the years pile up, there's a strong chance your dentist will tell you that you have gum disease, and even that you need gum surgery. If that phrase makes you squirm (and why wouldn't it?) you'll be happy to hear about a laser treatment that can heal your gums without the incisions and pain of traditional surgery, and with better results.
Traditional gum surgery involves cutting into your gums and removing bacteria and diseased tissue, then sewing them back up with stitches and usually leaving behind less gum tissue than you started with. It generally involves multiple appointments (including pre-op deep cleanings and post-op evaluations) and a fair amount of bleeding, swelling and, yes, pain. But a laser treatment called the LANAP protocol promises to heal gums without any slicing and sewing.
An Almost Painless Alternative
Instead a fiber optic laser, the width of just three human hairs, is inserted into the gum and targets only the bacteria and diseased tissue. "The laser recognizes bacteria and diseased tissue based on color, and it won't damage healthy tissue or tissue that has the potential to regenerate," says Robert Gregg, DDS, one of the inventors of the LANAP protocol. "And because the laser is a heat source, it seals blood vessels, nerve endings and lymphatics, which results in less bleeding, pain and swelling than traditional surgery, and the wave length of the laser leads to the release of regenerative growth factors in the tissue."
Not only is the laser procedure less painful than traditional surgery, says Gregg, it's more convenient for the patient. "We do only two appointments and one post-op evaluation, so it requires less time away from work and life," he says. Unlike with traditional perio surgery, no deep cleanings are required in advance of the procedure. "Wounds heal best when treated well once, so it's better to avoid all of those deep cleanings."
I've experienced the pain and hassle of traditional gum surgery, and am wondering why my dentists didn't suggest LANAP when I had my procedure a few years ago. Although Gregg invented LANAP more than twenty years ago, he said that many dentists and periodontists are still unfamiliar with the procedure. However, "there are certified practitioners in all 50 states, and it is taught in eight different dental schools in the US." To find a LANAP protocol provider near you, visit the website.
The Big Risks of Gum Disease
If you've been told you have gum disease (which your dentist determines by checking the depth of the pockets between your gums and your teeth) it's imperative that you get it taken care of. There's a growing pile of evidence that gum disease ups your risk of a variety of major health problems, including heart disease and stroke, because mouth bacteria and the plaques they form can enter your bloodstream through your mouth, and because the inflammatory process set off by diseased gums can have negative health impacts throughout your body.
Also know that it's possible to have gum disease without symptoms, so ask your dentist to measure you gum pockets (if he or she doesn't already) at your semi-annual appointments. And, unfortunately, it's unlikely diligent brushing and flossing is going to let you beat gum disease without the help of a professional. Once bacteria colonizes your gums it calcifies and forms biofilms below your gum line and, says Gregg, "no amount of brushing and flossing is going to get rid of it."
To wrap this up on a positive note, know that if you do get your gum disease treated you might just the see other aspects of your health improve as well. "I've had patients come in after treatment and tell me that they've been able to go off their blood pressure medication, or that their diabetes had improved," says Gregg. "I'm not conducting clinical trials, but from an anecdotal perspective I've seen other health problems improve."
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