Despite considerable improvements in oral health, dental caries continue to be a public health issue. The most frequently used, and universally accepted technique, to remove caries is through mechanical ablation of decayed tissues by means of rotating drills (diamond or tungsten carbide, or both). In the past few decades, the introduction of adhesive filling materials (resin composites) has affected cavity filling procedures by reducing its retention needs, with advantages for dental tissue conservation. Consequently, new minimally invasive strategies were introduced into dental practice, such as the use of lasers to perform highly controlled tissue ablation. Laser use has also raised expectations of limiting pain and discomfort compared to using drills, as well as overcoming drill phobia.
The main objective of the review was to compare the effects of laser-based methods to conventional mechanical methods for removing dental caries in deciduous and permanent teeth.
We searched the following electronic databases: Cochrane Oral Health's Trials Register (searched 22 June 2016), Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL; 2016, Issue 5) in the Cochrane Library (searched 22 June 2016), MEDLINE Ovid (1946 to 22 June 2016), Embase Ovid (1980 to 22 June 2016), ProQuest Dissertations and Theses (1980 to 22 June 2016), Zetoc (limited to conference proceedings) (1993 to 22 June 2016), and ISI Web of Knowledge (limited to conference proceedings) (1990 to 22 June 2016). We checked the reference lists of relevant articles to identify additional studies. We searched the US National Institutes of Health Ongoing Trials Register ClinicalTrials.gov and the World Health Organization International Clinical Trials Registry Platform for ongoing trials.
We included randomised controlled trials, split-mouth trials and cluster-randomised trials (irrespective of their language) comparing laser therapy to drill ablation of caries. We included participants of any age (children, adolescents and adults).
Two review authors independently screened titles and abstracts of citations identified by the review search strategy. Two review authors independently evaluated the full text of relevant primary studies, assessed risk of bias and extracted data. We used standard methodological procedures expected by Cochrane.
We included nine randomised trials, published between 1998 and 2014, involving 662 participants. The population consisted of both children and adolescents in four trials, only adults in four trials, and both children/adolescents and adults in one trial. Four studies examined only permanent teeth, and five studies evaluated both deciduous and permanent teeth. Six trials used Er:YAG (erbium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet) lasers, two trials employed Er,Cr:YSGG (erbium, chromium: yttrium-scandium-gallium-garnet) lasers, and one trial used Nd:YAG (neodymium-doped yttrium aluminium garnet) laser.Overall, the trials had small sample sizes, and the majority were at unclear or high risk of bias. The primary outcomes were evaluated in a limited number of trials (removal of caries (four trials (but only two reported quantitative data)); episodes of pain (five studies)). There was insufficient evidence to suggest that either lasers or drill were better at caries removal (risk ratio (RR) 1.00, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.99 to 1.01; 2 studies; 256 treated caries; P = 0.75; I(2) = 0%; low-quality evidence).The incidence of moderate or high pain was greater in the drill group compared to the laser group (RR 0.40, 95% CI 0.28 to 0.57; 2 studies; 143 participants; P < 0.001; I(2) = 50%). Similarly, the need for anaesthesia was significantly higher in the drill group than in the laser group (RR 0.25, 95% CI 0.10 to 0.65; 3 studies; 217 children/adolescents; P = 0.004; I(2) = 0%).In terms of marginal integrity of restoration, there was no evidence of a difference between laser and drill comparisons evaluated at 6 months (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.21 to 4.78; 3 studies), 1 year (RR 1.59, 95% CI 0.34 to 7.38; 2 studies), or 2 years (RR 1.00, 95% CI 0.21 to 4.74; 1 study).There was no evidence of a difference for durability of restoration between laser therapy or drill at 6 months' follow-up (RR 2.40, 95% CI 0.65 to 8.77; 4 studies), at 1 year (RR 1.40, 95% CI 0.29 to 6.78; 2 studies) or at 2 years' follow-up (RR 0.50, 95% CI 0.02 to 14.60; 1 study).Only two trials investigated the recurrence of caries, but no events occurred during 6 months' follow-up.There was insufficient evidence of a difference between laser or drill in terms of pulpal inflammation or necrosis at 1 week (RR 1.51, 95% CI 0.26 to 8.75; 3 studies) and at 6 months (RR 0.99, 95% CI 0.10 to 9.41; 2 studies).
Given the low quality of the body of evidence, we concluded that evidence was insufficient to support the use of laser as an alternative to traditional drill therapy for caries removal. We found some evidence in favour of laser therapy for pain control, need of anaesthesia and patient discomfort, but, again, the body of evidence was of low quality. Additional well-designed, randomised trials investigating the most relevant outcomes are needed.