This post was written by Keith Dawson for UBM Tech’s community Web site All LED Lighting, sponsored by Philips. It is archived here for informational purposes only because the All LED Lighting site may go dark at any time. This material is Copyright 2013 by UBM Tech.

2013-04-02

LEDs for Dental Applications

All the advantages of LEDs are multiplied in this field.

Dentists need lots of different kinds of light. LED products fit in all of these niches.

March has been a month of a great deal of dental work in my life. I got to wondering about the inroads LED lighting has been making in dental practices. This morning I had a chat with my dentist about it.

Here's a quick survey of the lighting applications in the typical dentist's office (I may well have missed some):

First, let me stipulate that I personally have not encountered many LED-based products in the dental practices I have patronized. In the last dozen or so years, when LED technology has been spreading rapidly into many application areas, I have been visiting dentists who were in their 40s, 50s, or older. They had established their practices at least a few decades previously.

Setting up and outfitting a dental practice is capital-intensive and involves many considerations, including impressionistic and aesthetic ones about the kind of image the practice leader wants to project. It's not uncommon, in my experience, for dentists to retain and work with much of the equipment they initially chose for their offices for two or more decades.

So, this early in the evolution of the LED field, it's mainly going to be the practices of young dentists that will be outfitted front-to-back with LED products. Affluent practices whose principals consider it important to project a cutting-edge, high-tech, and/or "green" image will be much sought-after by LED equipment makers. Dentists who keep up-to-date in their field, when replacing aging equipment, will mostly opt for LED-based solutions.

Green dentistry
Awareness is spreading about the environmental impacts of traditional dental practices. The resulting "green dentistry" movement has embraced LED lighting as one key way to reduce the environmental footprint. Here is an educational video made half a year ago by Fred Pockrass, D.D.S., the founder of Eco Dentistry; it addresses the benefits of LEDs in dental practice, with particular attention to the ecological benefits.

Dr. Pockrass uses an LED surgical light in his practice that provides three color temperatures -- 5300K, 4300K, and 3200K -- and three intensities -- 8000, 15,000, and 25,000 Lux.

A practitioner's view
My dentist, Dr. K., is a very gentle practitioner whose office is an oasis of tranquility. Her color sense is quite refined: like a number of dentists I have met, she is an accomplished watercolorist as well as an artist in enamel. She set up her practice between 15 and 20 years ago.

The several operatories have fluorescent overhead lighting and a halogen surgical light. The overheads are corrected to daylight, Dr. K. told me, though she could not quote a CCT value. That light looks blueish to me. The halogen surgical lighting is warmer (again the doctor did not know an exact value); I would guess it's below 3000K, perhaps as low as 2700K. She uses both, alone and together, when matching colors for crowns, bridges, etc. She said the halogen bulbs have to be replaced every two years.

Dr. K. opined that the LED surgical lights she has seen were not sufficiently bright. It turns out that her exposure to such products is two years old now. Here from a "virtual medical exhibition" are 239 LED surgical lighting products from 68 manufacturers, and most of them have adequate brightness, I'm going to assume. Dr. K. did express the belief that in two or three years the situation will have improved significantly.

The office has one dental curing light with a halogen source and one with LED. Dr. K. says they are functionally equivalent. In my visits that called for the use of this device, I'm sure it was the halogen light that was used; it required a cooling fan. In this application, LEDs are both cooler and less power-hungry, so they can be cordless and battery-operated.

An LED source for the fiber-optic-fed light in the dentist's handpiece is one application for which Dr. K. had unbridled enthusiasm. She said that the LED source was "like day and night" compared to incandescent illumination. Her drills are all illuminated by LEDs.

LEDs' advantages over other lighting technologies of longevity, color flexibility, coolness, low power, and eco-friendliness are all shown to excellent effect in dentists' offices. LED seem poised to dominate these applications within little more than a decade.

— Keith Dawson Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn page, Editor-in-Chief, All LED Lighting