Everything You Need to Know About Sedation Dentistry

For many people, even just the thought of visiting the dentist can induce so much anxiety that they would rather endure the pain of a toothache than to show up at that dreaded office. Of course, this is not the best choice to make for your teeth and gums – dental issues have to be taken care of promptly for the good of your oral health, or the problem can worsen, and a more extensive treatment might be needed. Fortunately, a solution is available in the form of sedation dentistry. Nervous patients can have their anxiety taken away or reduced to allow them to get the dental treatments that they need, whether it’s an invasive procedure or a simple tooth cleaning.

What is sedation dentistry?

Sedation dentistry is a practice of dentistry that utilizes medications (sedatives) to help relieve anxiety in patients and help them stay relaxed throughout their various dental procedures. It is commonly thought of as sleep dentistry, and though patients can fall asleep if general anesthesia is used, they usually remain conscious and awake during the entire treatment.

Levels of Sedation

  • Minimal sedation: The patient stays awake but in a relaxed state.
  • Moderate: The patient is awake and in a state where they may speak incoherently. This also induces a relaxed state, but the patient most likely will not remember much about the procedure.
  • Deep: The patient is on the brink of consciousness; can still be woken up with a gentle nudge.
  • General anesthesia: The patient is completely unconscious and will not remember anything about the procedure.

The level of sedation used depends on the severity of the patient’s fear or anxiety as well as the procedure to be performed.

Types of Sedation

There are four types of sedation used in sedation dentistry.

  • Inhale sedation: This form consists of laughing gas, being inhaled in conjunction with oxygen through the nose. The gas helps you to relax but keeps you awake. Qualified dentists are able to control the amount of sedation you receive. The benefit of this minimal level of sedation is that the gas wears off fairly quickly, so patients are able to drive home by themselves.
  • Oral sedation: This type of sedation also falls under the level of minimal sedation, going into moderate, depending on the dosage. A low dosage consists of a tablet taken an hour or two before the procedure. This tablet will make you feel drowsy but does not put you to sleep. Moderate sedation consists of a larger dose of medication, which can cause patients to feel so bleary that they fall asleep during the procedure. However, they can still be awakened easily with a gentle nudge.
  • IV sedation: This level of sedation is considered a moderate level. Medication is administered through a vein via a needle (intravenously). Because the sedative is given so directly, it works very quickly. The dentist will monitor you continually, regulating and adjusting the level as needed. With IV sedation, you will stay awake during the procedure, but will be very relaxed and will not remember much about the procedure. Because the effects of IV sedation last longer than nitrous oxide, it’s advised that you have someone drive you home.
  • General anesthesia: This is considered deep sedation as it will make you almost or completely unconscious for the procedure. The dentist will provide you with a drug that will put you to sleep, and you will not be able to be awoken easily until the effects of the drug wear off (though some medication can have its effects reversed).

The dentist will decide on which type of sedation to use based on the extent of the procedure needed. You can be assured that he will choose one that is sufficient to alleviate any pain or anxiety, so know that it is wiser to opt for sedation dentistry rather than endure oral pain.

Note that, if you choose to use sedation dentistry, be sure to find out about the dentist’s qualifications and licenses. Not all dentists are permitted to administer nitrous oxide, IV sedation, or general anesthesia, and you should only be under the supervision of qualified and licensed professionals.


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