Lasers- more effective than laying on hands?
March 10, 2015 2:16 PM   Subscribe

My veterinarian has recently started using "healing lasers" as part of dental treatments, among other things. The information they provided said that the laser is used outside the animal's mouth, and it... somehow penetrates and reduces pain and inflammation? I'm not real clear on how it's supposed to work, and it kind of sounds like a more science-y version of crystals and chanting to me. Is this a real thing?

He doesn't seem like the kind of guy who would do something that has not proven to be effective, or buy into new-agey type stuff, but this sounds like it might be bunk. There's not extra charge for this, I'm not worried about being ripped off or anything, I'm just wondering if this is, in fact, a thing that works. If so, why does my own dentist not offer this?
posted by Adridne to Science & Nature (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm not entirely clear on the mechanism, but my veterinarian gf is having success with laser treatment for wounds. I'm surprised you're not being charged extra though. Therapeutic lasers are not cheap.

To be honest, I was sceptical when she told me about it, but it seems to be working. As for human treatment, I think that's an FDA/approval issue. Wikipedia is in the same ballpark with a "jury still out" perspective. There are some research references there you could follow.
posted by idb at 2:28 PM on March 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

I don't know about dental applications, but it is a veterinary a thing. You may remember the guy in Wisconsin (or Michigan?) who had the old, arthritic dog he would take into the water? There was a photo and the whole thing blew up? Anyway, one of the things people donated was laser therapy treatment for the dog's arthritis. The owner and the vet seem to think it helped.
posted by sevenless at 2:31 PM on March 10, 2015

Best answer: Skepvet has an 2010 post about cold laser treatment (not sure if that's what you're describing though). Feels very woo-y to me, but IANAV.
posted by longdaysjourney at 2:31 PM on March 10, 2015

I would be suspicious that it isn't a real laser just because you aren't paying ridiculous amounts to have them do this.
posted by dilaudid at 2:54 PM on March 10, 2015

Best answer: The search terms you'll want to use are "low level laser therapy" and "class IV laser therapy". There are many studies on PubMed [1,2] involving human recipients of the therapy, and there appears to be a mild effectiveness, although results in my opinion are inconclusive. However, used correctly, there does not appear to be any substantial risk of harm.

That said, in the veterinary space, there seem to be more advertisements for therapy centers or the equipment itself than there are actual studies, which seems telling. Doing an external assessment in the comparative pain of dogs before and after treatment is far more difficult to measure than with human pain or activity assessments, for obvious reasons. This makes it very difficult to assess the real-world benefits of the treatment.

I have first-hand experience with it. After our dog had major spinal surgery, she went to a canine rehabilitation center where part of her therapy was laser treatment, along with an underwater treadmill and other exercises. The studies showing mild efficacy in humans kept me from calling off the laser portion of the treatment, but there was never any obvious before/after difference with the laser treatment that I could discern, nor did she seem to appreciate the treatment in the same way she's historically reacted to other pain relief activities, such as an ear cleaning or salve on a wound. This was also in contrast to the other exercises, where it was often possible to witness a minor improvement in her abilities during the session itself, or medication, where a change in behavior after a brief period of time can be very obvious.

She did recover from surgery and regained the ability to walk, but it is impossible for us to isolate the effect of the laser from the medication she was on, the natural healing process and the other exercises. I am not personally convinced it had any effect, positive or negative, and I'm left with the impression that this is something that veterinarians are offering due to competition in the field - ie, so patients calling about services don't have to ask why they're *not* using laser therapy compared with other treatment centers - than because of any substantial efficacy in the healing process.
posted by eschatfische at 3:06 PM on March 10, 2015 [1 favorite]

Check out the final question in this FAQ.
Is this just an expensive infrared heat lamp?

Laser light is monochromatic, coherent and collimated. The beam from the K-Laser is allowed to naturally diffuse, and it does maintain its qualities of monochromacity and coherence. Photons of laser light have numerous beneficial effects when interacting with human tissue.
Notice what word is missing? No. That's because they are selling expensive infrared lasers whose purpose is heating cells, meaning heat lamps. Don't be tricked by their phrasing of photons of laser light, a photon is a photon is a photon.

Good use of the lasercat tag.
posted by books for weapons at 3:09 PM on March 10, 2015 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Interesting answers, thank you!
I believe they do charge when using it to treat wounds- they just don't charge more than normal when using it after dental surgery, it's included in the fee.
posted by Adridne at 5:30 PM on March 10, 2015

Best answer: This is all woo-woo crap.

"Monochromatic" = meaningless to cells.
"Coherent" = meaningless to cells.
"Collimated" = meaningless to cells.

I spent 25 years as an optical engineer, and followed with interest when the first "healing lasers" came out. They were snake oil. No repeatable, double-blind study has shown significant effects.

Buy your dog a nice amethyst instead.
posted by IAmBroom at 6:25 PM on March 10, 2015 [5 favorites]

My 14.5 year old lab was run over my a car recently. She somehow escaped with no broken bones or internal injuries but her back was horribly bruised. The vet said she may lose some skin due to the trauma.

I took her in for laser treatments once a day for a week and she healed up beautifully. No skin loss and it was only a week before her skin was looking and feeling like a baby's butt.

Maybe laser treatment is snake oil but it seemed to work wonders for my dog.
posted by shaarog at 7:07 AM on March 11, 2015

Our animal hospital has laser therapy, which our vet suggested when our dog had a significant internal injury. When we asked about the details (because we were curious, not suspicious), the answer was very hand-wavy and not confidence-inspiring. We did it anyway, because it seemed that at worst it would have no effect. Our dog healed very well and quickly. I have no idea whether or not it had anything to do with the lasers.
posted by dfan at 7:37 AM on March 11, 2015

shaarog: Maybe laser treatment is snake oil but it seemed to work wonders for my dog.
Single anecdote, and it doesn't even have to be a placebo effect, since you aren't mentioning "areas they missed that healed slower".
posted by IAmBroom at 10:48 AM on March 11, 2015

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