Since the first demonstration of a laser in 1960, numerous applications of this unique form of energy have been developed for the manufacturing, electronic, consumer and medical industries. Recent technological innovations have permitted development of lasers appropriate for use in the dental operatory. The carbon dioxide laser has been used for soft tissue surgery; the Nd:YAG laser has both soft and hard tissue applications. Advantages of laser treatment over conventional methods include minimal cellular destruction and tissue swelling, hemostasis, increased visualization of surgical sites and reduced post-operative pain. Additionally, it is possible to perform many procedures without needing anesthesia. Soft tissue clinical applications of the Nd:YAG laser include gingivectomies, gingivoplasties, operculectomies, biopsies, incising and draining procedures, frenectomies and treatment of aphthous ulcers; hard tissue clinical applications include vaporizing decay, etching enamel and dentin, desensitizing exposed root structure and creating temporary analgesia. As both clinical experiences and scientific investigations expand, possible future applications of the dental laser may well include development of new dental adhesives and composite systems, new methods for managing caries and new endodontic treatments. With its numerous benefits, the laser is having a positive impact on patients and the dental team.