BACKGROUND: The aim of the present study was to compare the effectiveness of an Er:YAG laser to that of scaling and root planing for non-surgical periodontal treatment. METHODS: Twenty patients with moderate to advanced periodontal destruction were treated under local anesthesia and the quadrants were randomly allocated in a split-mouth design to either Er:YAG laser using an energy level of 160 mJ/pulse and 10 Hz or scaling and root planing (SRP) using hand instruments. Clinical assessments of plaque index (PI), gingival index (GI), bleeding on probing (BOP), probing depth (PD), gingival recession (GR), and clinical attachment level (CAL) were made prior to and at 3 and 6 months after treatment. Subgingival plaque samples were taken at each appointment and analyzed using darkfield microscopy for the presence of cocci, non-motile rods, motile rods, and spirochetes. Differences in clinical parameters and prevalence of bacterial species were analyzed using the paired t-test. RESULTS: The PI remained nearly unchanged while a significant reduction of the GI occurred in both groups after 6 months (P < or =0.001, P< or =0.001, respectively). The mean value of BOP decreased in the laser group from 56% at baseline to 13% after 6 months (P < or =0.001) and in the SRP group from 52% at baseline to 23% after 6 months (P < or =0.001). The mean value of the PD decreased in the laser group from 4.9+/-0.7 mm at baseline to 2.9+/-0.6 mm after 6 months (P< or =0.001) and in the SRP group from 5.0+/-0.6 mm at baseline to 3.4+/-0.7 mm after 6 months (P < or =0.001). The mean value of the CAL decreased in the laser group from 6.3+/-1.1 mm at baseline to 4.4+/-1.0 mm after 6 months (P < or =0.001) and in the SRP group from 6.5+/-1.0 mm at baseline to 5.5+/-1.0 after 6 months (P < or =0.001). The reduction of the BOP score and the CAL improvement was significantly higher in the laser group than in the SRP group (P < or =0.05, P < or =0.001, respectively). Both groups showed a significant increase of cocci and non-motile rods and a decrease in the amount of motile rods and spirochetes. CONCLUSIONS: An Er:YAG laser may represent a suitable alternative for non-surgical periodontal treatment.
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