by Cori Hilsgen
Longtime area dentist Dr. Michael Contardo is using new laser technology in his practice, daring to be the first in Minnesota to use this specific laser treatment.
In 2011, Contardo became certified in laser dentistry and began using a laser for soft-tissue work. Last year, he researched and invested more than $85,000 in the Solea laser system which also works on hard tissues. He is now using that new technology.
Contardo said this is the first carbon-dioxide laser system cleared by the Food and Drug Administration for use on hard and soft tissues and is effective with both tooth structures and gum tissues.
He is so excited and confident about this new technology, he has renamed his practice “Laser Dentistry.”
“This all kind of came about because the soft-tissue and hard-tissue laser became available,” Contardo said. “I thought this really made sense, and if it really is true, this is a big deal. So once I researched it and got to the point this would be something I would want to do, then the question came down to how do I want to present this to my patients? Do I want to offer this as sort of a sideline or really kind of create what an amazing change in dentistry this is providing? The opportunity is to have patients have this experience and promote it.”
The Solea laser tool looks similar to a traditional drill tool and is hand-controlled by Contardo. A computer-monitoring system applies the most effective laser pattern to the area of the mouth he is working on. While working with the laser, Contardo wears high-magnification glasses.
Contardo explained the dental laser is made to vaporize tissues.
When using the laser, he shines the laser beam on a tooth for a short period of time, using a low-power level that anesthetizes the fibers that go into the nerve system so it creates a very unique analgesia that numbs that tooth up at that point but does not numb the whole side of the face as the use of Novocain would. It is very specific tooth by tooth. Once the tooth is anesthetized, Contardo can turn the power up enough to a point where it will vaporize tooth enamel and he can then prepare a tooth at about the same speed as if he were using a traditional drill.
After that, the filling is prepared traditionally. He still uses the drill to shape and polish the filling but not for the primary removal of the decay.
Because the laser beam is one-fourth of a millimeter as compared to his smallest drill-bit size of one millimeter, he is able to create a smaller cavity preparation for a filling, allowing him to preserve more of the tooth.
He is able to prepare teeth for crowns without using any anesthesia. For patients on blood thinners, the laser allows him to have tissue management at relatively bloodless sites.
Contardo says benefits of using the laser instead of the drill include that the patient can be pain-free while having a tooth filled and doesn’t need to wait for Novocain to numb the mouth and stay numb after the tooth is filled. When filling teeth, Contardo can preserve more of the tooth because the laser is more precise than the traditional drill. After a tooth is filled, the patient can feel how high the filling is as soon as Contardo does and that helps with post-filling shaping.
Because Contardo doesn’t need to charge for anesthesia and saves time by doing more procedures in a shorter amount of time, he has not increased his fees for using the laser technology.
Although he is not able to do so yet, he anticipates laser tooth-extraction techniques will be developed in the future.
So far, between 200-300 patients have tried the laser technology with Contardo.
The laser is less invasive with no vibration, little noise or discomfort and is not as scary for children and adults who might have a fear of going to the dentist.
Contardo doesn’t feel there are dangers with using the laser if good safety protocol such as wearing laser-protective eyewear and other procedures are followed.
A good technique of holding the laser carefully and making sure you stay in the specific area where you are trying to work is also important.
Contardo feels laser is worth the experience. If patients have a cavity or need fillings done and have any hesitation of getting numbed, or if they don’t like the sound of the drill, he said it is definitely worth experiencing the laser method.
“I really do think that this is going to be the way of dentistry in the next three-five years,” he said.
He believes it will take a little bit of a learning curve for dentists to get on board with lasers, because the technology is such that it’s a little bit foreign. Contardo compares it to the time period when dentists first began using higher speed drills in the office.
He believes there should be more specific regulations for using dental lasers and would be interested in helping to develop those. Contardo is certified in five different types of lasers.
“It doesn’t take a lot to learn, but it takes a deliberate effort to get out and understand basic laser science and physics and then know the differences between the different types of lasers and tissue interaction,” Contardo said.
There are few other dentists currently using Solea laser technology. Those he is aware of include one in Sioux Falls, S.D. and possibly one in Iowa and one in Wisconsin.
Contardo said he is surprised he is the first and one-and-only dentist using this in Minnesota.
Currently, he is receiving inquiries from throughout the state about the laser system.
“I’m excited about sharing this technology,” Contardo said. “I think this is a good thing, and I have had a phenomenal response of people inquiring from a long way away. It’s really fun because it’s the opportunity to help people experience this.”
Contardo, 62, said he has had real joy in practicing his dentistry and has found it to be a great career.
He looks forward to practicing for the next 10 years, but would like to bring someone new on board in the next five years. Contardo is looking for someone that would be a good fit for his patients.
April is Oral Cancer Awareness Month, and Contardo, a 15-years-plus survivor of stage IV oral cancer, which had metastasized into his neck, encourages regular cancer screenings. He recently gave free oral exams with both a regular light and using a Velscope that allows him to see diseases not visible with a regular overhead light, at the April 11 St. Joseph Community Showcase at Kennedy Community School.
Contardo graduated from the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry in 1978, was in group practice from 1978-1988 and opened his clinic in St. Joseph in 1989.
He has been married to Marilynn Olsen for 36 years. They have two sons, two daughters and six grandchildren.
Contardo employs three full-time staff, including his receptionist/business manager Darlene Rosten; assistant Sondra Szfrankski; and hygienist Hatie Fleming. All have worked for him between five and 25 years.
“My staff is great,” Contardo said. “I have a wonderful staff and have no good reason not to keep practicing. I’m thankful and grateful for being able to do this.”
Laser Dentistry is located at 26 2nd Ave. N.W. in St. Joseph. For more information, call 320-363-4468 or visit the website at laserdentistrymn.com.
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor's degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people's stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.
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