Red light therapy revolutionary for oral health

oral light therapy for mouth health

Oral light therapy, in the form of low level lasers and LEDs, has been used in dentistry for decades now. As one of the most well studied branches of oral health, a quick search online (as of 2016) finds thousands of studies from countries all over the world[1] with hundreds more every year.

red light heals teeth
Red light can help with a variety of tooth and mouth problems

The quality of the studies in this field vary, from preliminary trials to double blind placebo-controlled studies, but the vast majority report beneficial effects. Despite this scientific consensus and the widespread clinical use, at-home light therapy for oral issues is not yet pervasive, for a variety of reasons. Why should people start doing oral light therapy at home?

Contents

Teeth Conditions Helped
Oral Hygiene
Sensitive teeth
Toothache and pain
Braces
Red light’s mechanism in body
Ideal type of light for oral light therapy
Bottom Line
References

Teeth conditions that benefit

Studies show benefit to various oral issues, including but not limited to:

  • Sensitive teeth (dentin hypersensitivity)[8-12]
  • Tooth[1-7] & bone damage[18-24]
  • Bacteria counts (tooth decay causing bacteria)[13-17]
  • Oral thrush/candidiasis[14, 36, 42]
  • Orthodontic teeth movement[28-33]
  • Gum inflammation & oral wounds in soft tissue[25-27]
  • Recovery from surgery (gums and jaw bones)[19, 24, 25, 29]
  • Ulcers, cold sores, tonsillitis, other viral/bacterial infections[5, 14, 27, 36-38]

Less than 10% of the studies show neutral or negative effects, although on critical inspection many of these use questionable doses and non-standard parameters [35].

 

Oral hygiene: red light therapy at least as effective as toothbrushing.

One of the more surprising findings from examining the literature is that light therapy at specific wavelengths reduces oral bacteria counts and biofilms. In some cases to a greater extent than regular tooth-brushing/mouthwash [13,14].

The studies done in this area are generally focused on the bacteria most commonly implicated in tooth decay / cavities (Streptococci, Lactobacilli)[14-15] and tooth infections (enterococci – a species of bacteria linked to abscesses, root canal infections and others)[16-17]. Red light (or infrared, 600-1000nm range) even seems to help with white or coated tongue problems, which can be caused by several things including yeast[42] and bacteria.

While the bacterial studies in this area are still preliminary, the evidence is interesting. Studies in other areas of the body also point to this function of red light in preventing infections. Is it time to add red light therapy to your oral hygiene routine?

 

Tooth sensitivity: reliably cured or significant improvement.

red/infrared light therapy for sensitive teeth
Teeth can be treated directly with a source of red light

Having a sensitive tooth is stressful and directly reduces quality of life – the afflicted person is no longer able to enjoy things like ice cream & coffee. Even just breathing through the mouth can cause pain.

There are dozens of studies on treating sensitive teeth (a.k.a. dentin hypersensitivity) with red and infrared light, showing successful treatment in all cases[8-12]. The reason this works is because unlike the enamel layer of teeth, the dentin layer actually regenerates throughout life via a process called dentinogenesis. Red light improves both the speed and effectiveness of this process, working to improve metabolism in odontoblasts – the cells in teeth responsible for dentinogenesis.

Assuming there is no filling or foreign object that may block or hamper dentin production, red light treatment is a reliable and effective method to eliminate sensitive teeth (by rebuilding the natural structure) in just a few weeks. Complementary therapies for sensitive teeth such as NovaMin toothpaste may also be used together with red light.

 

Toothache: red light as effective as regular painkillers

Red light therapy is well established as a modality for reducing pain. This applies to teeth, just as much as anywhere else in the body. In fact, dentists use low level lasers in clinics for this exact purpose[26].

The light doesn’t just help with the symptoms of pain[31, 39] though, it actually helps on various levels to treat the cause (as already mentioned – killing bacteria, rebuilding teeth, etc.).

 

Dental Braces: oral light therapy essential for all wearers

The vast majority of total studies in the oral light therapy field focus on orthodontics. It’s no surprise that researchers are interested in this, because there is ample evidence that tooth movement speed in people with braces increases when red light is applied[28-30, 32-33]. This means that by using a light therapy device, you can get rid of your braces much sooner and get back to enjoying food and life.

As mentioned above, red light also reduces pain, which is the most significant and common side effect of orthodontic treatment. Pretty much everyone who wears braces has moderate to severe pain in their mouth, on an almost daily basis. This can negatively affect which foods they are prepared to eat and can cause dependance on traditional painkillers such as ibuprofen and paracetamol. Light therapy is a side-effect free, non-intrusive method to deal with pain from braces[31].

 

Teeth, gum and bone damage: much better chance of healing with red light

thor laser being used for oral issues
THOR© laser being used for oral issues (image copyright – THOR Photomedicine Ltd)

Damage to teeth, gums, ligaments and bones supporting them, can happen for a variety of reasons, including natural decay, physical trauma, gum disease & implant surgery. We’ve talked above about red light healing the dentin layer of teeth but it has also shown promise for these other areas of the mouth.

Red light is shown to speed up healing of wounds and reduce inflammation in the gums[25-27]. It will even strengthen the periodontal bones without the need for surgery. In fact, red and infrared light are both well established at improving bone density by interacting with osteoblast cells[18-24]. These are the cells responsible for bone synthesis.

Light therapy leads to higher cellular ATP levels, allowing osteoblasts to perform their specialised primary functions (of building a collagen matrix and filling it with bone mineral).

 

How does red light work in the body?

It might seem strange that light therapy is so helpful for practically all oral health problems, if you don’t know the mechanism. Red and near infrared light act primarily on the mitochondria of cells, leading to greater energy (ATP) production. Any cell that has mitochondria will, in theory, see some benefit from appropriate light therapy.

Energy production is fundamental to life and to the structure/function of cells. Specifically, red light photodissociates nitric oxide from the cytochrome c oxidase metabolism molecules within mitochondria. Nitric oxide is a ‘stress hormone’ in that it limits energy production – red light negates this effect.

There are other levels on which red light works, such as improving the surface tension of cell’s cytoplasm, releasing small amounts of reactive oxygen species (ROS), etc., but the primary one is increasing ATP production via nitric oxide inhibition.

 

The ideal light for oral light therapy

oral light therapy
Red Light Man’s Red Light Device being used to clean teeth

The majority of studies use low level lasers, which cost $8000+. If you have access to one, then we recommend using it. Various wavelengths are shown to be effective, including 630nm, 685nm, 810nm, 830nm, etc. Several studies compare lasers to LEDs, which show equal[40-41] (and in some cases superior[16]) results for oral health. LEDs are much cheaper, being affordable for at-home use.

The key requirement for oral light therapy is the ability of the light to penetrate the cheek tissue, and then to also penetrate the gums, enamel and bones. Skin and surace tissue blocks 90-95% of incoming light. Stronger sources of light are therefore necessary with regard to LEDs. Weaker light devices would only have an effect on surface issues; unable to eliminate deeper infections, treat gums, bones and harder to reach molar teeth.

If the light can penetrate the palm of your hand to some extent it will be suitable to penetrate your cheeks. Infrared light penetrates to a slightly greater depth than red light, although the power of the light is always the primary factor in penetration.

We recommend red/infrared LED light from a concentrated source (50 – 200mW/cm² or more power density). Lower power devices can be used, but the effective application time would be exponentially higher.

 

Bottom line

  • Red or infrared light causes regeneration of various parts of the tooth and gum, all while reducing negative bacteria.
    • The relevant wavelengths are 600-1000nm.
    • LEDs and lasers are proven in studies.
  • We should start thinking of light therapy directly into the mouth as a modern advancement in technology over the more primitive toothbrush.
    • Just as you may currently brush your teeth in the morning and evening for a few minutes, it’s sensible to use a strong source of red light daily; to clean the mouth and strengthen the teeth.
  • People with braces would see a more dramatic improvement than others by using this method. Sensitive teeth, gum inflammation, infections and tooth pain are all ameliorated by light therapy.

Red and infrared LEDs are both effective for oral light therapy. Session time from 2-10 minutes depending on light strength/heat. Stronger lights are required for penetration of cheek/gums.

 


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References:

Tooth regeneration:

  1. Pubmed ID: PMC4113395 – Photoactivation of Endogenous Latent Transforming Growth Factor–β1 Directs Dental Stem Cell Differentiation for Regeneration
  2. Pubmed ID: 9409045 – The current status of low level laser therapy in dentistry. Part 2. Hard tissue applications.
  3. Pubmed ID: PMC3601343 – Periodontal Bone Regeneration and the Er,Cr:YSGG Laser: A Case Report
  4. Pubmed ID: 15478483 – Argon laser irradiation and fluoride treatment effects on caries-like enamel lesion formation in primary teeth: an in vitro study.
  5. Pubmed ID: 25240388 – Low-level laser therapy as an alternative for pulpotomy in human primary teeth.
  6. Pubmed ID: 24974864 – Clinical and radiographic outcomes of the use of Low-Level Laser Therapy in vital pulp of primary teeth.
  7. Pubmed ID: 24858234 – The effect of low-level laser therapy (810 nm) on root development of immature permanent teeth in dogs.

Sensitive teeth:

  1. Gerschman J A et al. Low Level Laser in dentine hypersensitivity. Australian Dent J. 1994; 39: 6.
  2. Pubmed ID: 20589404 – Low-level laser therapy of dentin hypersensitivity: a short-term clinical trial.
  3. Pubmed ID: 24197517 – Clinical evaluation of low-power laser and a desensitizing agent on dentin hypersensitivity.
  4. Pubmed ID: 20863237 – Effects of the combined desensitizing dentifrice and diode laser therapy in the treatment of desensitization of teeth with gingival recession.
  5. Pubmed ID: 19281413 – Clinical evaluation of Nd:YAG and 685-nm diode laser therapy for desensitization of teeth with gingival recession.

Mouth bacteria:

  1. Pubmed ID: 2145417 – Comparative effects of toothpaste brushing and toothpaste rinsing on salivary bacterial counts.
  2. Pubmed ID: 22189647 – In Vitro effect of low-level laser therapy on typical oral microbial biofilms.
  3. Susceptibility of Streptococcus mutans biofilms to photodynamic therapy: an in vitro study – Iriana Carla Junqueira Zanin et al.
  4. Pubmed ID: 26241781 – A Comparison of the antibacterial activity of the two methods of photodynamic therapy (using diode laser 810nm and LED lamp 630nm) against Enterococcus Faecalis in extracted human anterior teeth.
  5. Pubmed ID: 21787505 – Evaluation of photodynamic therapy using a light-emitting diode lamp against Enterococcus faecalis in extracted human teeth.

Bone:

  1. Pubmed ID: 25653816 – Effect of low level laser therapy on proliferation and differentiation of the cells contributing in bone regeneration.
  2. Pubmed ID: 26511218 – Bone healing after low-level laser application in extraction sockets grafted with allograft material and covered with a resorbable collagen dressing: a pilot histological evaluation.
  3. Pubmed ID: 14651794 – Effects of pulse frequency of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) on bone nodule formation in rat calvarial cells.
  4. Pubmed ID: 22138375 – Low level laser therapy (830nm) improves bone repair in osteoporotic rats: similar outcomes at two different dosages.
  5. Pubmed ID: 20204601 – Laser 904 nm action on bone repair in rats with osteoporosis.
  6. Pubmed ID: 26037661 – Low-level laser therapy improves bone formation: stereology findings for osteoporosis in rat model.
  7. Pubmed ID: 16503787 – Laser therapy improves healing of bone defects submitted to autologous bone graft.

Oral wound healing:

  1. Pubmed ID: 25867988 – Periodontal and peri-implant wound healing following laser therapy.
  2. Pubmed ID: 24656472 – Developments in low level light therapy (LLLT) for dentistry.
  3. Pubmed ID: PMC3977514 – Use of Low Level Laser Therapy for Oral Lichen Planus: Report of Two Cases

Orthodontic:

  1. Pubmed ID: 22350425 – Effect of low-level laser therapy (LLLT) on orthodontic tooth movement
  2. Pubmed ID: PMC3955317 – Effects of low-level laser therapy on orthodontic tooth movement and root resorption after artificial socket preservation
  3. Pubmed ID: PMC4264099 – Effect of Low Level Laser Therapy on Orthodontic Tooth Movement: A Review Article
  4. Pubmed ID: 22775467 – Efficiency of low-level laser therapy in reducing pain induced by orthodontic forces.
  5. Pubmed ID: 19840281/ – Low-energy laser irradiation accelerates the velocity of tooth movement via stimulation of the alveolar bone remodeling.
  6. Pubmed ID: 23883115 – Influence of low-level laser therapy on the rate of orthodontic movement: a literature review.

General

  1. Tunér J, Hode L. Low level laser therapy – clinical practice and scientific background. ISBN 91-630-7616-0.
  2. Tunér J, Hode L. It´s all in the parameters: a critical analysis of some well-known negative studies on low-level laser therapy. Journal of Clinical Laser Medicine & Surgery. 16 (5): 245-248.
  3. Pubmed ID: 15954824 – Effect of low-level laser therapy on Candida albicans growth in patients with denture stomatitis.
  4. Pubmed ID: PMC3972568 – Efficacy of Low-Level Laser Therapy in Treatment of Recurrent Aphthous Ulcers – A Sham Controlled, Split Mouth Follow Up Study
  5. Pubmed ID: 19161055 – Low-level-laser therapy as an alternative treatment for primary herpes simplex infection: a case report.
  6. Low level laser therapy (LLLT) for orofacial pain – Seyyedi et al
  7. Laser Ther. 2011; 20(3): 205–215. Is light-emitting diode (LED) phototherapy really effective? Won-Serk Kim and R Glen Calderhead
  8. An Bras Dermatol. 2014 Jul-Aug;89(4):616-23. Effects of low-power light therapy on wound healing: LASER x LED. Chaves ME et al., 2014
  9. Pubmed ID: 11862203 – Treatment of oral candidiasis with methylene blue-mediated photodynamic therapy in an immunodeficient murine model.

47 thoughts on “Red light therapy revolutionary for oral health

    • John says:

      Yeah, I believe so. The pain, inflammation and even infections that occur with impacted teeth would be improved. I don’t think it could straighten the tooth though. So if your wisdom tooth is coming in at an extreme angle, it’s worth applying red light for now, but still seek a professional opinion.

  1. DaveFoster says:

    I wasn’t aware that red light could affect bone structures. Amazing.

    I’m surprised this isn’t more widely implemented to treat osteoporosis in older people.

    • John says:

      Yeah, seems like an obvious side-effect free treatment for that. I think the problem arises from bones being deep inside the body. Penetration rates of light vary from person to person (skin colour, hair, body fat, etc.) so it’s hard to have a standardised treatment protocol. Some bones like the jaw are easy to treat, but many are difficult to reach even with high powered light sources.

  2. Sara A says:

    That’s really amazing, that it’s as good as brushing teeth. Red light really seems like such a miracle cure for a lot of things. I have sensitive teeth and oral thrush, maybe I should invest in a red light and not only rely on teeth brushing and tongue scraping.

    • John says:

      Well, we can’t say that definitively, but it’s definitely having some sort of beneficial anti-bacterial effect. In terms of infections and bacteria, ‘photodynamic therapy’ seems to be better than light therapy alone. This is basically the combination of standard red light with light ‘sensitiser’ chemicals such as methylene blue. Look at the last study we referenced above for more info on oral thrush.

    • John says:

      Placing them directly on the cheek over the molar’s position works well (if you have a beard it’s better to shave first). I usually do that for a while, and also from the front with my mouth open for a while.

  3. Manoko says:

    As someone who’s struggling with a root canal infection right now, I believe red light therapy could help prevent any other one in the future, which would be awesome.

    • Joe says:

      Oh definitely. The bacteria that remain in the root can be hard to affect since they are effectively sealed off. Appropriate red or infrared light is one of the things that can have an impact.

  4. Janis Bell says:

    I bought a red LED laser to use on my back molar after a dentist nicked the root cleaning out a cavity. The tooth was painful so I avoided chewing on that side. I stuck the pen-shaped laser in my mouth and put it on each side and top of the tooth. First time, I had a huge reaction with increased swelling, which told me the healing process was being stimulated. Next time, I did a little shorter exposure, and after that no reaction. It took about 8 months but I can now chew on that side without discomfort. Now I think I’ll try it on some tender areas of gum. Thanks for this blog.

    • Joe says:

      Thanks for the anecdote Janis. That’s really interesting. I know that people with severe tooth pain can have trouble locating the actual tooth responsible, as the pain spreads to all nearby areas. Dentists or patients can use red lasers on individual teeth like you did, and judging by the reduction in pain, they can locate the troublesome tooth.

  5. Gene says:

    This information is just fascinating. To imagine the power we have to instigate self healing , all within a single bulb emitting red infrared light!

    Just amazing!

  6. Carole says:

    Hi!
    You state:- We recommend 50-200w of red/infrared LED light from a concentrated source (200mW/cm² or more power density). Lower power devices can be used, but the effective application time would be exponentially higher.
    So with the 11w mini lamp ordered, how long would you use it for to get acceptable results.
    Thanks

    • Joe says:

      Hi Carole,
      Thanks for bringing this to my attention. That info is out of date. It’s mainly the light density output that matters, with anything over about 50mW/cm2 penetrating well. Higher wattage devices cover a wider range of skin surface area so lead to shorter treatment times.
      With the infrared light mini, I’d use it from a distance of 0 – 40 cm, for any length of time from 4 minutes to 30 minutes a day, or more.

  7. Michelle says:

    I had an accident 2 years ago that impacted my 2 front teeth. At the time i took medicine to deal with the pain, but I refused to get root canals done, which is what my dentist at the time recommended. I’ve had sensitivity on those two teeth ever since. Yesterday I visited another dentist. He took xrays and found black spots on the roots of those two teeth, and suggested I come back to do a 3D scan to get a better look. From what he could see on the xray, he felt that the teeth were almost dead, and said that we’d have to most probably extract them and put implants, or do root canals. I have a follow up in a few weeks for the 3D xray. I’ve been reading on light therapy, diet, and supplements I could take in an attempt to save the teeth, but I see that on one of the sections in your article you mention that if you have fillings on the tooth, the light may not work. And unfortunately I have fillings on part of these two teeth. I was just wondering if you think I should still give light therapy a shot, and if so, what your recommendation would be for the equipment and exposure times.
    Thank you

    • Joe says:

      I’m sorry to hear about your situation Michelle. I hope you find some recovery.
      Sounds like light therapy is a good idea anyway, simply due to the amount of x-ray radiation you are being exposed to, which red/ir light can alleviate.
      If you do go down the dental implants route, light therapy should speed the gum tissue healing and also strengthen the bone.
      I’m not sure if light would help save your teeth or not. It sounds like you have significant damage, a possible infection and then fillings which could obstruct healing. If I was you I would be doing daily light therapy on the area, whether they can be saved or not. The is just to strengthen the area for future implants, reduce chances of infections from root canals and possibly save the teeth by regenerating some dentin. Something like our infrared mini or red/ir combo would be suitable since it’s your front teeth (the light doesn’t need to penetrate through the cheek – you can open your mouth). I would use that as close as possible for up to 10 minutes a session. Maybe twice or three times a day.

      • Michelle says:

        Thank you for the prompt reply. I think I’m going to give this a shot since I have nothing to lose by trying. Thank you for the advice!

  8. Francis Weber says:

    Hi, I suffer with a condition called Mitochondrial Myopathy. I have a Infrared Light Device, can this help to cure my condition? And if so where should I apply the device for maximum aid?

    • Joe says:

      Hey Francis, I’m not sure about that. Infrared light is good for mitochondria but I’m not sure exactly what’s going on with that condition. I would encourage you to look into some studies on your specific issue done with lasers or LEDs and see what they did, if there are any.

  9. MW says:

    This is so interesting! I love your site!

    So, after reading a few of the articles above, it looks like 630nm (or basically near there) seemed to be most effective against oral bacteria. Did I read that right? Also the 810-830nm seem most effective for people wearing braces. Am I reading that correctly? This is new to me.

    I want to get a light for my daughter to help facilitate tooth movement while she’s wearing braces. I was thinking about getting the infrared mini for this. What are your thoughts on the model and treatment times?

    Thanks!

    • Joe says:

      I think any light between 600-900nm will be effective against oral bacteria, as will blue light.
      Infrared at 830nm is perhaps slightly beter for things like braces due to the better penetration over red.
      I think either of our infrared mini products would be suitable, with treatment times between 5-15 mins per session.

    • Joe says:

      Possibly, although it depends on the cause to some extent. It should help with inflammation and maintain the tissue, but if you have vitamin deficiencies for example, it won’t be able to correct that.

  10. Jayme says:

    I have a hairline crack in a tooth and I believe my root has become infected. Can the red light therapy effectively kill an infection in the root? My goal is to avoid a root canal or extraction. Thanks!

    • Joe says:

      There is a good chance, although it depends on the type of bacteria to some extent. You should use a high dose. An infection could come back in future if you do have an open crack in the tooth, so using it preventatively would be useful.

  11. Matt says:

    Can it help with tongue healing? My tongue has a crack, perhaps related to medical treatments I have had in the past. I also get mouth ulcers on a fairly consistent basis.

    • Joe says:

      Ulcers definitely – both preventing them and resolving them faster. It will help healing anywhere on the body, including the tongue

  12. Linda says:

    My daughter was adopted from China 6 years ago and a recurrent black stain forms on her teeth a few months after cleaning, despite her regular brushing. We have been told by the dentist that it “it just part of her flora” and they do not know how to prevent it. We have to have her teeth cleaned every 2 months. I have another daughter from China, who had this problem after her adoption, but it spontaneously went away after 2 years or so. I’m planning to buy the red light 670 to treat a number of conditions for my family members, including Hypothyroid and extremely dry skin. Do you think this would help her teeth, as well?

    • Joe says:

      Hi Linda, I had a look into this just now. I’ve never heard of it before. Looks like it is a good thing according to some studies: pubmed ID: 24430339 & 25802850 – in that the bacteria responsible helps to prevent tooth decay. Seems to be caused by a class of bacteria called Actinomyces. I found one journal talking about how red laser light helps to kill this type of bacteria, but I’m not sure if it will bring about permanent changes in the oral flora.

  13. Mike Seymour says:

    Very fascinating information.
    Can you please tell me if this therapy can help cavitations (bone infections) in March 2013 I had a top left partially erupted wisdom removed. In Aug2013 aged 26 my life changed due to ill health and I was diagnosed mid 2015 with Lyme disease. I go to Germany next month Feb 2017 but have always wondered if the tooth removal started the decline in health as Lyme can lay dormant for years in people until immune systems are compromised. I.e toxicity from an infected bone perhaps. I am speculating but to use a light devise on the suspected area is no big issue and if it could help would be amazing. What is the devise best suited for this application please. Thank you

    • Joe says:

      Sure, there’s no guarantee it will fully resolve long term damage in cases like that, but you can be sure it will at least help to some degree.

  14. Mary-Therese Bazouni says:

    Hi there im very curious and fascinated with this do you think the red light can help with receding gums apparently i have over brushed on the gums I think its the start of receding do you think it might help. Thank you.

    • Joe says:

      Hi Mary,
      It will definitely be preventative against further recession. It might fully resolve the issue if in early stages.

  15. Edward Kourian says:

    Hi Joe,
    I have granulomas under teeth which roots have been well cleaned but obviously even so my organism reacts in forming granulomas under cleaned roots teeth.

    Do you think with led infrared right those granulomas could be affected and disappear? And if “Yes” which device exactly should I use?

  16. Jackie says:

    Thanks for this article! I have a lot of acid erosion and sensitivity and some jaw pain (possibly from exposed nerve/pulp?), especially in my molars in the back. Which product do you think I might get, and how would I use it? Would it be effective to open my mouth so as to expose all my teeth to red light?

    • Joe says:

      Hi Betty, I don’t think so. There are several hundred studies with light on oral health now and I’ve never seen a contradiction related to that.

  17. Asif Siddiqui says:

    I have just ordered the Red-Infrared Combo Light and well today was at the Dentist’s who has said I need to get an impacted wisdom tooth pulled out as it has decay on it…..I may get the light by the time I get this surgery done….so would it be ideal using it post surgery to recover or lessen the pain?

    • Joe says:

      Yeah, it is a good idea to use light therapy both before and after any surgery, and continue afterwards for several months until you see complete healing. The data shows it speeds healing, reduces pain and reduces chances of scar tissue.

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