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What Is Sedation Dentistry?

If the thought of going to the dentist makes you so anxious that you would rather suffer with a toothache, then sedation dentistry might be for you.  Does the thought of having someone scratching at your gums cause you to tense up?  Do you avoid the dentist like the plague?  Difficult to sleep the night before a dental appointment?  You are not alone.  Many people are so phobic about going to the dentist that they prefer not treatment at all.

For those who avoid the dentist, sedation dentistry can remove much of their anxiety.  It can be used for simple procedures like a dental cleaning or for difficult procedures like extractions and implants.

What is it?

Sedation dentistry uses medicine to help patients relax during treatment procedures.  People often use the words “sleep dentistry” to describe sedation, but that’s not exactly true.  Except for those who are under general anesthesia, sedated patients are conscious or awake.

The levels of sedation include:

  • Minimal sedation – you are awake, but relaxed.
  • Moderate sedation – you may slur your words when speaking and you may not remember much of the procedure.
  • Deep sedation – you are on the edge of consciousness but still can be awakened. You are breathing on your own.
  • General anesthesia – you are completely unconscious and a machine is breathing for you.

Types of Sedation Used in Dentistry

Inhalation sedation.  You breathe nitrous oxide, also know as laughing gas, combined with oxygen through a mask that’s placed over you nose.  The gas helps you relax because it’s an anti-anxiety agent.  It only works while you breathe it.  And once you stop breathing it, the sedation is gone.  That means you don’t have to do any preparation before going to the dentist and you can drive yourself home right after because nitrous oxide analgesia does not have any lasting effects.

Oral sedation.  Depending on the dose you take, oral sedation can range from minimal to moderate.  For minimal sedation you take a pill.  Typically, the pill is Halcion.  It’s like Valium, but does not remain active very long.  You take the pill about one hour before the procedure.  The pill will make you drowsy but you will still be awake.  Often, nitrous oxide is used in combination with Halcion to increase sedation.  A larger dose of the pill can be given to produce moderate sedation.  Some people become groggy enough under moderate oral sedation that they begin to fall asleep during the procedure.  The can, however, be aroused easily with a gentle shake or verbal commands.

IV sedation.  You receive the sedative drugs through a vein so the drugs can work quickly.  This method of delivery allows the dentist to control the level of sedation more easily.  Multiple drugs are often used and the sedation can be moderate to deep.  You are relaxed and sleepy, but you are awake and breathing on your own.  You probably will not remember much about the experience.

If you are one who is fearful of needles, then you might want to stick with oral sedation because IV sedation means you get a needle in the arm.  IV sedation requires preparation.  You will be asked to stop eating several hours before your procedure and someone will be required to drive you home.

General anesthesia.  You are asleep and you need help breathing.  This method come with more potential side effects and complications, so you might want to consider lesser forms of sedation dentistry.

Regardless of the type of sedation used, everyone gets local anesthetic.  This is what numbs the teeth and gums and removes the pain.

Who Needs Sedation Dentistry?

Patients who consider sedation dentistry often have different reasons for doing so.  Here’s a short list:

  • Phobia related to dental procedures
  • Hypersensitive teeth and gums
  • Bad dental experience in the past making you particularly anxious
  • Small mouth that becomes sore during dental work
  • General anxiety disorder
  • Resistant to local anesthetic

Will You Benefit from Sedation Dentistry?

As you consider sedation dentistry, take a look at the procedure you are going to have and your general response to dental care.  For example, are you afraid of needles?  If so, IV sedation may cause more anxiety than the dental procedure since you would have to get a needle in the arm.  Similarly, if you feel vulnerable in the dental chair, you might want to remain awake but relaxed with minimal sedation and local anesthetic.

However, if you’re putting of dental work because you fear pain or you have a lot of work to do, then deeper IV sedation or general anesthesia might be your solution.

When you ignore things like cavities, loose or broken teeth, or other problems, you put your oral health at risk.  Not only that, the problem might become more complicated as time passes, which could mean you need more extensive dental work in the future.

Sedation dentistry can make a big difference in your level of comfort in the dental office.


Author Info

Gerald Torgeson

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