NEW JERSEY COMPANY TO REFINE NASA TECHNOLOGY
Refined NASA Technology May Replace Dentist's Drill
In the near future, a laser device
inspired by NASA may replace the dentists drill. Flip a
switch and it will also replace the dentist's razor-sharp scalpel.
And the best part: 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 only five
percent of approximately 140,000 practicing dentists in the U.S.
use a laser system.
Now, researchers at NASA Langley
Research Center, Hampton, Va., have demonstrated that two of the
laser wavelengths approved by the FDA for dental applications can
be produced from a single, easy-to-use system. This development is
expected to result in an increased interest in and use of lasers in
the dentist's office.
"The dual 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, Mont.
Both wavelengths can be produced
using the same hardware. Switching between the two wavelengths is
accomplished 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.
Lantis Laser, Inc., Hewitt, N.J.,
is working with NASA Langley to refine the performance of 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 lab with help from the
technology's inventors. Assuming FDA approval of the technology by
mid-2001, the goal is to begin sales of the device by the end of
2001. According to company projections, each one percent of market
share of the American dental market for this dual wavelength
technology represents approximately $40 million in sales.
Dr. Craig Gimbel is a dentist,
co-founder of Lantis and a principal investigator for the FDA
clinical trials 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 dental laser. "Filled
teeth can be stronger," according to Dr. Gimbel, "because a laser
removes less of the healthy tooth for filling. 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, my patient does."
A dual wavelength laser would
provide the additional benefit of minimizing blood flow during
surgery by searing the cut.
In addition to the dual wavelength
laser, Lantis also plans to commercialize a coherent light-based
imaging technology. This imaging system would provide early
detection of tooth decay and gum disease, allowing the minimally
invasive treatment laser announced today to be used to its best
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.
For information about business
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Editor's Note: For more information or still images
contact Keith Henry at firstname.lastname@example.org.
B-roll and soundbite video is available that includes animation of
the dual wavelength laser and the technology's original aviation
application. For video, contact Ivelisse Gilman at 757/864-5036 or