Sedation Dentistry

If you experience dental anxiety or have difficulty sitting still, sedation dentistry can help you remain calm and comfortable while you receive the treatment you need. Sedation uses anesthesia to induce relaxation in patients. While some types simply produce a sense of peace, others create a deep state of relaxation closer to sleep. If you are concerned about your treatment, it may be worthwhile to discuss sedation options with your dentist. 

Who Can Receive Dental Sedation?

Your dentist may recommend sedation if you suffer from:

  • Dental anxiety
  • Difficulty controlling movements
  • Resistance to local anesthetics
  • Dental sensitivity

For patients who have had traumatic dental experience or who are afraid of needles, sedation dentistry offers a way to pursue necessary dental treatment without triggering anxiety attacks. Even if you are comfortable in the dentist's chair, dental sedation can make it easier to undergo longer appointments for extensive dental work.

Typically, sedation dentistry is combined with a local anesthetic to ensure you are comfortable throughout your procedure.

Be sure to disclose your complete medical history to your dentist before receiving sedation, including any medications you are currently taking and any drug allergies. While sedation is typically reserved for patients 18 years of age or older, certain pediatric patients may qualify. In some cases, the supervision of a pediatric sedation dentist might also be recommended. 

When to Use Dental Sedation

Most dental procedures can take place under sedation. In fact, patients with severe dental phobia may even receive cleanings under mild sedation. However, it is much more common for complex procedures which take a long time to complete, such as:

Typically, sedation dentistry is combined with a local anesthetic to ensure you are comfortable throughout your procedure.

Levels of Sedation There are four main levels of sedation:

Light sedation

Also known as anxiolysis, this degree of sedation is the most commonly used in dental procedures. 

Conscious sedation

Moderate levels of dental sedation allow you to respond to commands while still in a state of extreme relaxation.

Deep sedation

At this level, patients are typically right at the edge of unconsciousness. You may drift off to sleep, but your dentist will still be able to wake you to communicate.

Unconsciousness

Generally reserved for oral surgery, this level of sedation leaves patients completely unaware and without memory of their procedure. In most cases, this state is achieved through general anesthesia.

The degree of sedation your dentist recommends will depend on the type of procedure you plan to undergo and your own comfort level. 

Types of Sedation

The most common forms of sedation used in a dentistry include:

  • Nitrous oxide for light sedation
  • Oral sedatives for conscious sedation
  • Intravenous (IV) medication for deep sedation

Typically, general anesthesia is only administered by a certified anesthesiologist. To maximize safety, procedures performed under general anesthesia take place in a hospital, rather than the dentist’s office. However, some dentists are certified to administer general anesthesia. 

Choosing the Right Type of Sedation For You

Different types of sedation achieve varying levels of relaxation. Depending on the extent of your anxiety and the type of procedure you need, your dentist will recommend nitrous oxide, oral sedatives, or intravenous (IV) sedation. You can discuss your options with your dentist before the procedure. 

Nitrous Oxide for Light Sedation

Also known as laughing gas, nitrous oxide is compound which, when inhaled, induces a state of relaxation. Your dentist administers this colorless gas by placing a mask over your nose. Typically, nitrous oxide is used to produce a light level of sedation, also known as anxiolysis.

Dentists often use nitrous oxide because they can easily control the amount of sedation you receive. The effects also wear off quickly. Inhalation sedation is often used for children, since it is safe and easy to control. Nitrous oxide is the only form of sedation where you may be able to drive yourself home after the procedure. However, your dentist may still recommend having someone drive you to and from your appointment. 

Oral Sedatives for Moderate Sedation

With oral sedation, your dentist prescribes you a medication which you take before your procedure. Typically, the medications used in dentistry have calming effects, which reduce anxiety and help you feel calm and relaxed about your procedure. Your dentist may prescribe you something to take before coming into the office or even the night before, depending on your level of anxiety about your procedure. 

The oral sedatives given by your dentist will likely make you feel drowsy, though you’ll still be awake throughout the procedure. Some patients do drift off to sleep during their treatment, but they can usually be awakened with a gentle shake. If you receive oral sedation, you will need someone to drive you to and from your appointment.

IV Sedation for Deep Relaxation

When administered intravenously, sedation takes effect quickly and produces feelings of deep relaxation. In many cases, patients feel like they are just at the edge of sleep. Some will drift off to sleep entirely. 

Before starting your procedure, your dentist or an anesthesiologist will place a small needle into the back of your hand or the crook of your elbow. If you are nervous about needles, they can numb the area first. Using this device, your dentist can continually adjust the level of sedation throughout your procedure to ensure you remain deeply calm and relaxed. For IV sedation, you will need someone to accompany you to your appointment and stay with you to ensure the medication fully leaves your system. 

Calm, Peaceful Treatment

For many patients, sedation dentistry makes available treatments that are otherwise unrealistic. However, it is important to keep in mind that sedation will add to the final price of your procedure. Ask your dentist what types of sedation they offer and how it can help you.

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