MANATEE -- After 33 years in the Bradenton medical community, periodontist Dr. Lindsay B. Eastman drew quite a crowd of well-wishers when he opened a new office in Lakewood Ranch.
"It was like a wedding," laughed Eastman's clinical assistant, Karen Lalosh, of the May 1 open house which drew 400 well-wishers to the parking lot at 6310 Health Park Way, directly across from the emergency room at the Lakewood Ranch Medical Center. "Other offices sent us flowers. We had lots of food and an open bar."
When guests made their way upstairs in the medical arts building to tour the new Suite 240, which officially joined Eastman's west side office at 1906 59th St. W., the buzz, according to his staff, was all about a little box and a wand that resembles a Water Pic irrigator.
When guests saw Eastman holding the wand, the periodontist evidently looked like a little kid at Christmas.
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"I was a doubting Thomas," Eastman said recently of the wand, which he hopes will be a strong draw for new clients to the Lakewood Ranch office since he has done well with it at the west side office, near Blake Hospital. "For five years I didn't believe it. You see, periodontists like me don't just believe. We have to see the research. I've now seen the research. I now believe."
The wand is a PerioLase, a laser that Eastman finally adopted in 2007 after it had been out 15 years and now says he can use in 90 percent of cases of gum disease rather than the traditional "flap" surgery.
In flap surgery, which Eastman still performs, he uses a scalpel to make an incision around the neck of the tooth, He pushes the tissue away from the tooth and exposes the root. He then can use a ultrasonic scaler to remove calculus, tartar, inflamed tissue and toxic bacteria that, he says, can eat away the underlying jaw bone structure that holds the teeth in place and can even cause heart disease, strokes and diabetes if left in deep pockets of the gums.
One problem with flap surgery is that tissue shrinks once the attachment to the gums is severed with a scalpel, Eastman said.
"Patients end up with long teeth," Eastman said.
Another problem is post-surgery when flap patients can experience pain from the cutting and sutures and are usually uncomfortable for a few days, Eastman said.
"I make a little deal with the patients," Eastman said of the laser. "The deal is that if I hurt them, I will get in the chair and they can work on me. But it hasn't happened. This is what patients like the most about the laser. There is no pain or recession. They are back to themselves the next day. I've had patients question me as to if I had actually done anything to them."
Patients are sedated in a "twilight" state during the laser surgery because it is akin to a deep cleaning and there is often sensitivity, Eastman said.
The laser's pulse goes through the healthy tissue and only targets the dark, pigmented areas that are diseased, Eastman said.
"There is no pulling back of the tissue," Eastman said. "As I swipe it, the laser softens the deposits on the roots. It's amazing. I can look up and see the root with a magnifying glass. It goes through the light tissue and when it hits the dark tissue it ablates it, fries it, disintegrates it. It has to do with wave lengths. It's not a continuous pulse. It fires and stops, fires and stops."
Eastman follows a step-by-step procedure with the laser which he learned in five weekend "boot camps" approved by the laser's manufacturer, Millennium Dental Technologies.
One of the final steps is to stimulate the treated area to create new bone growth in the jaw.
"The last step of the laser creates a little blood clot bandage so the bone growth can take hold," Eastman said.
Patients can't brush their teeth or eat any solid food for 10 to 12 days to allow the new bone growth to proceed.
The patient healing takes up to six weeks and the actual bone growth and regeneration that goes on microscopically can take six to 36 months, Lalosh said.
The entire protocal is called "Laser-Assisted New Attachment Procedure," also known as LANAP.
Eastman believes he is the only periodontist in Bradenton using it.
"I thought it was too good to be true," Eastman said of the laser, which was developed by a pair of dentists and is the only FDA approved laser in the treatment of periodontal disease. "But I saw the X-rays with my own eyes. I have seen four millimeters of new bone growth from the laser."
Oddly enough, the laser's warm, healing magic can also help speed the healing of "cuts, scrapes, mouth sores and even tennis elbow," Eastman said with a chuckle, adding that when he and his fellow perio "laser wizards" get together near a laser they often be seen warming their own creaky joints.
"I see guys using it on their elbows and shoulders," he said with a smile.
Bradenton's Sue Elliott, 48, had the laser treatment from Eastman and came away pleased.
"I wouldn't smile," Elliott said, regarding her bout with gum disease, which left her with gaps in her teeth from pulled back gums.
"Everything was receding," Elliott said. "I had a lot of self-consciousness and very bad sensitivity to cold and hot."
Elliott had the gum laser surgery about a year ago.
"I don't remember a thing," she said last week with a laugh. "For someone like me, who is scared of the dentist, that was a blessing.
"I also don't remember having any pain afterward," Elliott added. "You do have a special diet. You can't chew anything for a week. But my pockets went from six or seven to one. I was also able to see my X-rays. I could see the bone growth."
Elliott said the laser has made a massive difference in her self-confidence.
"I think this is one of the best things I have ever done," Elliott said. "I bought lipstick for the first time in a while. I have no gaps at all in my teeth. Before, they looked like fangs, showing the roots. Everything has reversed itself, I can't stop smiling."
Laser surgery costs roughly $2,000 per mouth quadrant (a mouth has four quadrants) and is about the same as traditional flap surgery, Eastman said.
Most insurance companies will cover it as a surgery, Eastman added.
Eastman's new Lakewood Ranch office is open Mondays, Thursdays and Fridays and offers dental implants and traditional periodontal appointments besides the laser gum surgery. Information: Lakewood Ranch office, 941-351-3000; Bradenton office, 941-792-3899 or eastmanonline.com..
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.