High/Boost/Fast Usually the highest power the light will generate. Typically synchronized to a timer that has a 10-second (or even less) led dental curing light interval, which may not be adequate for many restorations.
Regular/Normal/Standard If a light has a high/boost/fast mode, the regular/normal/standard mode will be set at a power level somewhat lower. If a light does not have different power levels, then the regular mode will be the highest power level.
Adhesive or Low Touted as a safer energy level for curing adhesives that presumably do not require the high power used for composites and cements. It presumably is safer since this mode produces less heat.
Step Cure at low power (usually about 150mW/cm2) for 10 seconds, followed by an instant “step up” to a much higher power (usually maximum of light) for the rest of the curing interval.
Ramp Start curing at low power (usually about 150mW/cm2), followed by a linear increase to a higher power (usually maximum of light) for 10 seconds, and then stay at that high level for the rest of the curing interval.
Pulse Has different meanings for different lights, but usually means
either the power cycles between high and low every second or so or the power cycles on and off every second or so from the beginning of curing.
Our tests were unable to detect any significant differences in microleakage in Class II restorations from the so-called “low stress” modes, such as step, ramp, or pulse. And, after bulk curing a packable composite in a Class I preparation using two “low stress modes”, one regular mode from a halogen light, and one regular mode from a plasma arc light, we were not able to detect any differences in marginal integrity, stain uptake, enamel crazing, or the infamous “white line” formation at enamel margins, as viewed under a stereomicroscope at 50x.
Curing Power, Cure Times, and Radiometers
More power, as measured by a radiometer, presumably means we can cure materials in less time, more deeply, or both. Since no one likes to sit at the chair holding the light for at least 40 seconds per increment, for example, high-powered lights that presumably permit fast curing have generated enthusiastic interest within the profession. In addition, the less time you spend curing a restoration, the more income you can realize.
However, the marketing of power being emitted by dental curing lights is becoming just as frenzied as the horsepower race in cars or the bond strength wars with adhesives. Unfortunately, unless a light is capable of an extremely high power output, relatively small differences in power output will not significantly increase its true performance. This again is similar to cars, where big boosts in horsepower only allow vehicles to drop their “0-60” times fractions of a second, which may be important on the race track, but has no relevance to everyday driving practices. This also applies to “turbo” tips that may not perform superiorly to conventional tips, despite their higher radiometer readings.
Then there is the issue of the accuracy of the radiometers being used today, many of which are calibrated differently.