Bill legalizes laser usage for dentists

Thursday, May 29, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- While the use of lasers by dentists in Missouri is nothing new, state lawmakers have passed legislation formally legalizing the practice.

The legislation, which is pending before Gov. Bob Holden, adds the use of lasers to an existing Missouri law that defines the practice of dentistry.

"A clearer definition for the use of new technology, especially as it applies to health care, is probably very important," said Doug Watanabe, a dentist from the St. Louis area who has been performing laser surgery for the past few years. "It's good for the public to be aware of the issue and for the profession itself to have guidelines."

Adding the use of lasers to the definition of dentistry also could provide dentists, patients and lawyers "a legal point of reference" in medical liability cases, Watanabe said.

Sen. Dan Clemens, who sponsored the bill, said it is intended to further legitimize the use of lasers in dentistry and oral surgery.

Soft tissue lasers are used for various conditions, including those affecting the gums. Dental laser surgery, which began in 1990, has the approval of the Food and Drug Administration.

Alan Reich, the Midwest area manager for California-based laser maker Biolase, said that lasers are becoming more common in dentists' offices despite their cost. Soft-tissue lasers can cost up to $20,000 while hard-tissue lasers can cost as much as $50,000.

"You want this in law because you don't want somebody buying a laser off the Internet and just setting up an office," Reich said. "It's more for the protection for the people, and I think it's progressive for Missouri to have it in writing. Now that lasers are becoming more popular, many issues have been brought up and they have to be dealt with."

Since dental laser surgery began 13 years ago, various organizations have been developing training standards. In 1993, three laser dentistry groups joined to form the Academy of Laser Dentistry, based in Florida.

Reich said within the next decade or so, laser dentistry will become the norm in most offices.

"I have seen the growth over the last few years," Reich said. "It will be a standard of care."

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Laser bill is SB506.

On the Net:

Missouri Legislature: http://www.moga.state.mo.us

Academy of Laser Dentistry: http://www.laserdentistry.org

Biolase: http://www.biolase.com

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