Michael Braukus

Headquarters, Washington, DC
(Phone: 202/358-1979)

Keith Henry

Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA

(Phone: 757/864-6120/4)

Stanley Baron

Lantis Laser, Inc., Hewitt, NJ

(Phone: 203/373-0387)

RELEASE: 00-86


In the near future, a laser device inspired by NASA may
replace the dentist’s drill. Flip a switch and it will also
replace the dentist’s razor-sharp scalpel. Best of all, it’s
virtually painless and requires no anesthesia for most patients.

Lasers exist today that work on hard tissue like teeth to
prepare the tooth for filling, and on soft tissue for gum
treatment and oral surgery.

But none do both, and buying two laser systems is expensive.
That is one reason why only 5 percent of approximately 140,000
U.S. dentists use a laser system.

Now, researchers at NASA’s Langley Research Center, Hampton,
VA, have demonstrated that the two laser wavelengths important to
dentists can be produced from a single, easy-to-use system.

“The system is simple because we’ve already done all the
complex physics in the lab,” said Langley laser researcher Keith
Murray, one of three inventors of the dental laser technology.
The other inventors are Norman Barnes, also of Langley’s Laser
Systems Branch, and Ralph Hutcheson of Scientific Materials Corp.,
Bozeman, MT.

Both wavelengths can be produced using the same hardware,
dramatically reducing cost and complexity. Dentists can switch
between the two by selecting the amount and rate of energy pumped
into the specially designed laser system. The resulting hardware
is about one-half the size of two distinct laser systems and does
not require the laser system to be “tuned” by the operator like
typical present-day systems.

A typical hard tissue laser costs about $38,000, and a soft
tissue laser costs around $25,000. The dual wavelength unit made
possible by this new technology is expected to cost less than

Lantis Laser, Inc., Hewitt, NJ, is working with NASA Langley
to refine the technology to explore its potential as a commercial
dental laser product. Under the terms of a Space Act Agreement, a
Lantis scientist will perform research in a Langley laboratory
with help from the technology’s inventors. Assuming Food and Drug
Administration (FDA) approval of the technology by mid-2001, the
goal is to begin sales of the device by the end of 2001.

Dr. Craig Gimbel is a dentist, co-founder of Lantis and a
principal investigator for the FDA clinical trails that led to the
May 1997 approval of lasers for hard-tissue dentistry. Dr. Gimbel
believes both patients and dentists would find much to like about
a dual-wave dental laser.

“Filled teeth can be stronger,” according to Dr. Gimbel,
“because a laser removes less of the healthy tooth for filling. A
dual wavelength laser could also minimize blood flow during
surgery by searing the cut. And the dentist feels more
comfortable when the patient feels more comfortable. When I don’t
have to use a dental drill, or I don’t have to use a scalpel, or I
don’t have to use anesthesia in all procedures, I feel better and,
of course, so does my patient,” said Gimbel.

The discovery of the two-wavelength technology is a spin-off
of work to develop high power lasers for remote sensing of the
atmosphere, a key element in NASA’s atmospheric sciences mission.
The technology has also been used in aeronautics research
including measurements of winds, wind shear and turbulence in
flight and measurement of wake vortices from the ground in airport
terminal areas. Those investigations led to the discovery that it
is possible to selectively produce two or more useful wavelengths
from a single laser source.

– end –

Editor’s Note: B-roll and sound bite video is available that
includes animation of the dual wavelength laser and the
technology’s original aviation application. For video, contact
Ivelisse Gilman of Langley Public Affairs at (757) 864-5036 or
i.gilman@larc.nasa.gov. Still images are available by contacting
Keith Henry at 757/864-6120 or h.k.henry@larc.nasa.gov