Over 30% of the population avoids going to the dentist due to anxiety and fear. Dental phobia prevents you from receiving the routine treatment you need to maintain the health and functionality of your smile. Sedation dentistry can help you get the care you need by providing a relaxing experience with significantly less anxiety. Sedatives can include anti-anxiety medications, tranquilizers, nitrous oxide, and depressants, all administered in a variety of ways by an experienced professional for an effective solution to combat this common phobia.
Dental Sedation vs. Dental Anesthesia
When dentists talk about sedation dentistry, what exactly are they saying? Many patients aren’t aware of the differences between dental sedation and dental anesthesia. When we bring up sedation, we’re talking about something extra to relax the patients. If you’ve been putting off dental treatment due to anxiety, read on to learn more about the role both sedation and anesthesia will play in your appointment. A combination of the two will result in you feeling neither pain nor fear.
Sedation Dentistry and Patient Comfort
While dental sedation is something additional that’s not always necessary, anesthetic is required whenever a procedure may be uncomfortable. Anesthetic blocks your nerves from receiving stimuli that signal pain. This numbs the area that’s being worked on so that you feel great in the dental chair.
Although dental anesthesia is provided to patients whenever there is a chance that they’ll feel any discomfort, dentists also try to numb the pain of the anesthetic injection. By treating the injection site with topical anesthetic prior to giving the shot, you’ll be numb to even the sting of the local anesthetic.
Popular Kinds of Sedation Dentistry
In the past, IV or intravenous sedation was the predominant method used to sedate a patient. Today the dentists have access to more advanced techniques that are simple and easy and don’t require needles. Sedation treatment is sometimes called sleep dentistry, but it does not make you sleep during your procedure. The effects of the sedatives will make you feel sleepy, and in some cases, you forget the entire experience as if you slept through the visit.
This type of sedative are administered via an IV or intravenous injection directly into the bloodstream. They put you into a deep state of relaxation, allowing you to rest until the procedure is complete. This sedative can put you into a “twilight sleep,” a state in which you remain conscious, but feel sleepy and remember little if any of the procedure.
Nitrous Oxide Dental Sedation
Nitrous oxide sedation is so effective that it has been used by dentists around the world for over 100 years, and it’s so gentle that it’s even safe for very young children. It’s ideal for patients of all ages who need just a little help relaxing during their dental appointments. The gas is inhaled through a small nasal mask, and within minutes, a patient will feel warm, calm, and maybe like they’re floating a little. The mask stays on for the entire visit, and after it’s removed, a patient will feel completely normal and be able to instantly return to their day.
IV Sedation Dentistry
IV sedation is the most powerful type, and it works by having the sedative be administered directly into the bloodstream, helping a patient become extremely relaxed very quickly. It is typically recommended in the following situations:
- If a patient has severe dental phobia
- If a patient is in need of extensive dental care
- If a child has special needs
- If a patient has chronic jaw/neck/back problems that make sitting for an entire appointment painful
- If a patient would like to have multiple procedures completed in one visit to save time
Oral Conscious Sedation
Oral sedatives include drugs such as Diazepam and are taken about one hour before the start of your scheduled dental appointment to allow the drugs to take effect in your system. You generally remain awake for the duration of your dental appointment but feel considerably more relaxed and less anxious than you would have without the medication. You will maintain consciousness during your treatment, allowing you to cooperate with your dentist safely.
If you feel you need a stronger form of sedation, you can discuss oral conscious sedation with the dentist. This type of sedation is ideal for patients who fear injections and who are age 11 or older.
Healthy patients are most likely to be good candidates for oral sedation. A local anesthetic will still be required and will be given after the oral sedative.
Oral sedatives may leave you with no recall of the procedure. You need to follow instructions prior to your appointment and also pre-arrange a ride home as you won’t be able to drive yourself.
If you will be undergoing a long and complex treatment, you’ll likely receive general anesthesia. You’ll be unconscious throughout the procedure with this type of sedation.
It will be administered by an anesthesiologist, and you will be monitored by a team of registered nurses. First, you inhale a gas through a mask and then receive medications through an IV line.
Even if you have a fear of needles, you’ll be able to receive general anesthesia with ease as you’ll be relaxed beforehand. General anesthesia can be given to both children and adults.
It’s crucial to have someone take you home afterward. You’ll also need to coordinate closely with your dental team for special precautions.
Choosing the Right Option for you
It may be tempting to assume that IV sedation would be best because it provides the deepest form of relaxation. This sedation must be administered and monitored by someone specifically trained, and some dentists only offer it for specific procedures. You’ll need to evaluate all your options before simply choosing a general anesthetic option.
Some sedation options can raise your threshold for pain, but most dental procedures will still require the injection of a local anesthetic. Fortunately, you won’t notice the injection much if you are already relaxed before the injection. This prevents you from experiencing any pain and can make the whole experience a lot easier to handle.
How are sedatives administered?
In two ways:
- Inhalation — Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is the most frequently used method for easing mild to moderate anxiety. Recovery is quick so you can resume your normal activities immediately.
- Oral — An extremely common technique for dental sedation is oral sedation. It is easy and does not require the use of needles. You will be given a prescription pill which, taken about an hour before your appointment, will have you fully relaxed by the time you arrive at our office.
What levels of sedation are available to me?
Sedation dentistry is closely regulated by law, and there are three sedative states at which your dentist can administer your treatment: mild sedation, moderate sedation, and deep sedation.
- Mild Sedation — Anxiolysis is the lightest form of sedation dentistry and is often used for patients with mild anxiety, longer procedures, or more complex situations. Mild sedation is usually administered orally. You remain awake or very sleepy throughout the entire procedure and are able to breathe on your own, but you will feel a great sense of relaxation. Patients typically recover from anxiolysis sedation within a few hours after the procedure is complete. Nitrous oxide inhalation (laughing gas) is another form of mild to moderate sedation that results in relaxation during treatment.
- Moderate Sedation — Used for patients with moderate dental anxiety and for patients who need longer or more complex procedures, conscious sedation often refers to the use of light IV sedation. With conscious sedation, you will remain awake throughout your procedure, but will be in a deep state of relaxation. It is recommended that patients who receive conscious sedation have a parent, spouse, or friend accompany them to appointments because it can take several hours for the sedative to wear off and driving may be unsafe.
- Deep Sedation — Patients receiving deep sedation go between consciousness and unconsciousness during their dental procedure. Patients often have no recollection of the treatment and are unable to respond to commands even if they are awake at times during the procedure. It is recommended that patients who receive deep sedation have a parent, spouse, or friend accompany them to appointments because it can take several hours for the sedative to wear off and driving may be unsafe.
Who Can Benefit from Sedation Dentistry?
People have a variety of reasons for preferring sedation dentistry, including:
- You have a general anxiety disorder that causes you to experience anxiety during daily life, including dental visits.
- You have a specific phobia about dental procedures or dentists.
- You have had bad experiences with dental procedures in the past, leading to discomfort around dental treatment now.
- You have a smaller mouth than most people, which affects the ability of dentists to reach the back molars and tissue during procedures.
- You have especially sensitive oral nerves.
- You have a resistance to local anesthetics like Novocain or Benzocaine which causes them to be ineffective on you.
With sedation, you get to:
- Avoid dental fears and anxiety
- Lessen the number of dental visits
- Eliminate the feeling of your personal space being invaded
- Forget most, or all, of the procedure
- Save money from receiving dental work you need in a shorter period
If you are affected by any of these, talk to your dentist about sedation dentistry. Using sedation dentistry, your dental care provider can make it easier for you to receive important treatments such as fillings, extractions, root canal therapy, dental implants, crowns, bridges, and more.
It’s unlikely you will need dental sedation if you are just receiving a simple tooth cleaning, dental x-ray, or tooth whitening procedure. If you experience a great deal of anxiety around these procedures, however, you may be an exception and be allowed to use dental sedation for routine visits.