Dental anxiety is neither uncommon nor a new occurrence. Plenty of people opt to endure pain from a cavity, infection, or another issue rather than go to the dentist. Sometimes, it’s based on a past experience, while other people are just anxious about having someone else poking around their mouth with dental tools. This is okay. It’s perfectly understandable, and you are not alone.

There are many dentists out there who understand and are sympathetic to this anxiety, and they have a solution: sedation dentistry.

What is Sedation Dentistry?

Sedation dentistry is the use of medications (sedatives) to help patients relax or even “sleep” during dental procedures. For the most part, sedation dentistry does not fully render patients unconscious with the exception of general anesthesia more involved procedures (like wisdom tooth extraction). However, there are forms of sedation dentistry during which patients may not stay awake (but can still be roused) or may not remember the procedure.

What are the Types of Dental Sedation?

There are multiple levels and methods of sedation dentistry. Dental sedation ranges from minimal sedation, during which you stay awake but relaxed, to general anesthesia, which causes the patient to be completely unconscious. Moderate sedation often causes patients to slur their words and have trouble recalling the majority of the dental procedure, and deep sedation is where a patient is just barely awake, if not dozing off, but can still be awakened as if asleep normally.

The methods of sedation dentistry include the following:

  • Inhaled Minimal Sedation: Traditionally known as “laughing gas,” inhaled minimal sedation is administered to patients through a mask that goes over the nose. The gas contains a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen, and a dentist or oral surgeon can control how much of this sedative gas patients receive. The gas helps patients to relax, but they remain conscious and capable of responding to instruction or tactile stimulation.
  • Oral Sedation: With oral dental sedation, patients are given a small pill that they swallow about an hour before the procedure. The dosage ranges from minimal to moderate sedation. The pill is typically in the same drug family as Valium or other similar sedatives. Patients given oral sedation are usually drowsy but awake, though some people do fall asleep during the procedure.
  • IV Moderate Sedation: Rather than taking a pill an hour before the procedure, a dentist using IV moderate sedation will introduce the sedatives intravenously (through a vein). The level of sedation can be adjusted by the dentist or oral surgeon throughout the procedure, and typically the patient is drowsy or may fall into a light sleep.
  • Deep Sedation: Deep sedation is like IV moderate sedation, though the sedative is a bit stronger, causing the patient to be almost completely unconscious. The patient may or may not be actually asleep, but they can be awakened. Patients under deep sedation will not likely remember much or any of the procedure.
  • General Anesthesia: General anesthesia is also typically administered via IV, but the sedative is strong enough to render the patient completely unconscious. Someone under general anesthesia cannot be awakened until the anesthesia wears off or is reversed by medication, and they do not remember the procedure at all.

No matter which type or strength of sedation you receive, you will also usually need a local anesthetic to numb the area of the mouth in which the dentist will be working. This will relieve any pain that you might be feeling during or immediately after the procedure.

What to Expect with Sedation Dentistry

Typically, when you receive any kind of sedation, your dentist or oral surgeon will suggest arriving at the office in comfortable clothing. You may also be invited to bring a personal music player, headphones, or other comfort items. Some dentists even recommend wearing slippers or bringing a pillow. If you are getting IV sedation or oral sedation, your dentist may recommend fasting for six to 12 hours before your procedure.

Unless you are getting inhaled minimal sedation, you will need to have a friend or family member drive you to and from the dentist’s office, as most forms of sedation dentistry will inhibit your ability to drive. This person should also stay with you for a few hours after bringing you home to monitor your comfort and well-being

When you get home, you may be tired; many patients tend to take a nap after a dental procedure that involves sedation. You may also wish to relax and spend a few hours watching movies or listening to music. Your dentist will also recommend eating a light meal or two, or he or she may give you a list of foods that you should eat or avoid for a period of time, depending on the procedure you had.

Is Dental Sedation Safe?

Modern dental sedation is based on a patient’s age, weight, and other health factors, minimizing the risk of complications. That said, there are risks associated with any form of sedation, just like with any medication. Your dentist will use electronic instruments to monitor your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, and other vital signs to keep you as safe as possible. You should discuss any medical issues you’ve had in the past or currently have with your dentist so they can adjust your treatment and sedation accordingly. Those who have obstructive sleep apnea or other medical conditions may be more likely to suffer from complications when sedated.

If you are concerned about the safety of sedation dentistry, you should discuss your concerns with your dentist or oral surgeon. They should be licensed by the Commission on Dental Accreditation to perform the dental sedation you will receive, and you should ask about FDA-approved dosages and the wording of the form you should receive regarding the risks and safety.

Is Sedation Dentistry Right for Me?

If you have high dental anxiety, low pain tolerance, an inability to sit still for long periods of time, very sensitive teeth, or need a large amount of dental work, sedation dentistry may be right for you. If you have any questions about how safe or necessary sedation dentistry is for you, feel free to talk to one of the experienced, trained dentists at the Covington Center for Family Dentistry. Give us a call at (678) 306-6000 or contact us online to discuss the dental sedation options we offer and to schedule your appointment!

We look forward to getting to know you and your family!