Closeup of a woman patient at the dentist waiting to be checked up with the woman doctor in the background

Closeup of a woman patient at the dentist waiting to be checked up with the woman doctor in the background

Sedation dentistry is often referred to as “sleep dentistry,” but that’s not exactly an accurate term. At least not all the time. In most cases, we only use enough medication to help patients relax through their dental procedures while remaining fully awake.

This is an effective way to get people who are anxious about their dental treatments into the office where they can receive the care they need. Is this an option for you? Let’s take a closer look at what it involves.

Defining Sedation Dentistry

The biggest misconception about sedation dentistry is that the patient will be completely unconscious during the procedure. While this is possible – and sometimes necessary – it usually only involves some medication that the patient takes before the appointment so they will be fully relaxed when they arrive.

(This does, of course, mean that the patient will need someone to drive them to and from the office.)

There are several levels of sedation, depending on your individual needs. In some cases, you may only need the minimal amount of sedation to overcome your anxieties. In others, something more serious may be required if they have a low pain threshold.

We can divide up the levels of sedation into 4 basic categories:

  1. Minimal sedation leaves you awake but relaxed. This can be administered through inhalation (the classic nitrous oxide) or through oral sedation (medication).
  2. Moderate sedation (sometimes referred to as conscious sedation) is where you will start to slur words and probably forget much of the procedure. Precise control of this level of sedation is often accomplished with an IV drip.
  3. Deep sedation puts you right on the edge of unconsciousness, but not so close that you can’t be awakened if necessary.
  4. General anesthesia is when you are completely unconscious and won’t be able to wake up until the medication has worn off or you’ve been given something to reverse the effects.

Nitrous Oxide vs. Pre-appointment Medication

Oral sedation is simple and convenient, but there are times when the classic “laughing gas” might be used. This was once the most common form of sedation because it is safe to use and the patient would still be able to breathe normally and maintain control over all their bodily functions. It also acts very fast, usually reaching the brain in about 20 seconds, and the patient is usually completely relaxed and enjoying the pain-killing effects within a couple minutes.

While oral sedation is quick and simple, some dentists still use the gas because it makes it possible to control the exact depth of the sedation without any harmful side effects.

Is It Right For You?

There are several reasons we might suggest sedation dentistry. If the patient’s anxieties are keeping him or her from receiving the necessary care, this can help them relax and overcome their concerns. This might also be recommended if patients have a low pain tolerance, extremely sensitive teeth, or a bad gag reflex.

However, sedation isn’t always a viable option for some people, and there are some things we need to know before we can recommend this for you.

Ensuring Your Safety

There are some circumstances in which sedation has to be avoided, so it’s important you provide your dentist with some specific information, including:

  • Any medical conditions for which you are currently being treated (especially any heart or chest problems)
  • Any other medications you are currently taking (including prescription and over-the-counter)
  • Any alternative supplements or herbal treatments you’re taking (some may have mild interactions with sedation)
  • Your current level of alcohol and tobacco consumption

Just Relax

Sedation dentistry can be used for major procedures or simple checkups, depending on your needs and level of anxiety. Don’t let these kinds of concerns stop you from getting the care you need.