Purpose: Most studies of cavity preparation using Er:YAG lasers have employed permanent teeth. This study's purpose was to compare the cutting efficiency of an Er:YAG laser versus diamond burs in primary and permanent teeth in order to measure thermal effects on the pulp and evaluate lased surfaces using scanning electron microscopy (SEM).
Methods: A total of 80 primary and permanent teeth were used. Crater depths and mass loss were measured after delivering laser pulses at varying energies onto sound or carious enamel or dentin using the Key-3 laser. Control samples were cut using diamond burs in an air turbine handpiece. Thermal changes were measured using miniature thermocouples placed into the pulp chamber. Lased surfaces were evaluated using SEM.
Results: Laser ablation crater-like defects were deeper in dentin than enamel at the same pulse energy. Greater ablation rates for dentin and enamel and significantly more efficient removal of carious tooth structure by laser was present in primary teeth. Temperature rises in the pulp did not exceed the 5.5 degrees Celsius threshold in any teeth during laser ablation.
Conclusions: The Er:YAG laser is an efficient device for cavity preparations in primary teeth, with no unacceptable increases in temperature detected in this model.