Does the thought of an upcoming dental appointment give you the jitters? Do you find yourself putting off regular dental checkups because of your fear of the dentist’s chair? You’re not alone. According to the American Dental Association, 1 in 5 people say they miss regular dental appointments because they are afraid of the dentist. 1
Thankfully, modern dentistry has a solution. A branch of dentistry called sedation dentistry can help reduce pain and take away most of your anxiety. It can help you stay comfortable during every type of dental treatment, from a simple cleaning to more complex dental procedures. Continue reading to learn more about this specialty and why you might need to see a sedation dentist.
What is sedation dentistry?
Sedation dentistry is a branch of dentistry in which the dentist uses medications to help patients relax. It is also known as sleep dentistry, although this term is misleading because patients are awake or arousable during the treatment (except when general anesthesia is used).
Sedation dentists use various different sedative drugs to reduce pain, decrease anxiety, encourage patient cooperation, and improve overall satisfaction with the dental treatment. However, the use of sedative medications during dental procedures does involve some level of risk for patients. 2 Therefore, clinics that offer sedation dentistry are required to have the training, skills, drugs, and equipment necessary to manage medical emergencies.
What types of sedation are used by a dentist?
The following are the categories of sedation used in dentistry:
Inhalational Sedation: This is a type of minimal sedation that depresses your level of consciousness to a small degree. You are able to independently maintain breathing and cardiovascular function. You respond to tactile stimulation (touch) and verbal instructions. However, your cognitive function (ability to think clearly) and coordination can be slightly impaired. 3
Inhalational sedation is the most common method dentists use to achieve minimal sedation. This is accomplished with a combination of nitrous oxide (laughing gas) and oxygen. You breathe in the gases through a mask placed over your nose. The effect of inhaled dental sedation wears off pretty quickly. You can drive yourself home after a dental procedure performed with this type of minimal sedation.
Oral Sedation: This is a type of mild to moderate sedation achieved with an oral medication taken by mouth. The level of sedation depends on the dose of the sedative drug. Your sedation dentist may ask you to take a pill an hour before a scheduled procedure or give you the medicine after you arrive in the clinic.
With this type of sedation, your respiratory and cardiovascular functions are maintained spontaneously without intervention. You are a little drowsy but still awake during the dental treatment and able to respond to verbal commands. If you fall asleep during the procedure, you can be awakened with gentle shaking.
Oral sedation is usually achieved with a medicine such as Halcion which belongs to the same class of drugs as Valium. As noted, your sedation dentist can adjust the dose of the drug, i.e., they may give you a larger dose to achieve deeper sedation.
Intravenous sedation: This is a type of moderate sedation in which the sedation dentist gives you a medication through a vein in your arm. When the medicine is placed directly in the bloodstream, it works more quickly. This method of sedation allows your dentist to more precisely adjust the level of sedation. With IV sedation, you cannot be easily awakened during the procedure but you will respond to repeated verbal commands or painful stimulation.
General Anesthesia: This is a type of drug-induced loss of consciousness from which you cannot be aroused even with painful stimuli. Patients who receive general anesthesia may not be able to maintain respiratory function independently and may require assistance to maintain breathing. Cardiovascular function may also be impaired.
Who needs to see a sedation dentist?
A sedation dentist is appropriate for people who have a deep fear or severe anxiety related to dental treatments, especially if the fear and anxiety are to the point of preventing them from seeking necessary dental care.
Sedation dentists may also be suitable for people with a low pain threshold (inability to bear even small amounts of pain). Individuals with highly sensitive teeth and gums or those with a hyperactive gag reflex may also need the services of a sedation dentist to safely undergo dental procedures.
People who cannot sit still because of disorders that cause involuntary movements or abnormal fidgeting may also benefit from sedation dentistry. Children who are uncooperative may require sedation before dental treatments. Last but not least, people who need a large amount of dental work done may benefit from sedation dentistry, as this can allow them to relax and undergo multiple procedures without pain or anxiety.
Can my family dentist give me sedation?
Most family dentists offer minimal sedation with nitrous oxide inhalation or anti-anxiety pills. Some general dentists also offer moderate sedation. However, if you are undergoing a more complex dental procedure that requires deep IV sedation or general anesthesia, you will likely need to see a specialist sedation dentist. Such dentists have received additional training in sedation techniques. Also, their clinics have the equipment, drugs, and team required to manage any potential complications in sedated children and adults.
Do you feel pain with sedation dentistry?
Regardless of what type of sedation is used, your dentist will most probably use a local anesthetic (numbing medicine) at the location where they are working in your mouth. This medicine helps to relieve pain and discomfort to a large extent. If you receive inhalational or oral sedation, you may feel some minimal discomfort during the procedure. However, if you receive intravenous sedation or general anesthesia, you will not feel any pain during your dental treatment, and you will not remember any part of the procedure.
What to expect during dental procedures with IV sedation?
Inhalational and oral sedation is pretty straightforward. A sedation dentist will ask you to inhale a gas with a mask or give you a pill to take before your treatment. Intravenous (IV) sedation is a little more complex. It allows you to relax and cooperate for a longer period, so the dentist can perform lengthy treatments or multiple procedures at the same appointment.
If your dental treatment is planned with IV sedation, your dentist will let you know beforehand. You will be given instructions to avoid eating or drinking anything for 6-8 hours before your appointment. You may also be asked to temporarily stop some of your regular medications. A friend or family member will need to bring you to the dental clinic and drive you home after IV sedation.
During the appointment, your sedation dentist will have you sit comfortably in the dental chair. They will insert an IV line in one of your veins in your arm and give you the sedative medication through this line. You will immediately begin to feel relaxed and will slowly become unaware of your surroundings. The entire time that they are treating you, your sedation dentist will carefully monitor your breathing, pulse, and blood pressure to ensure there are no adverse reactions to the sedative drugs.
After IV sedation, you will be drowsy for several hours. You should plan to take it easy for the rest of the day and avoid any strenuous activities for 24-48 hours.
Is sedation dentistry safe?
Like any treatment involving medications and anesthesia, sedation dentistry does carry some risks. However, in the hands of an experienced sedation dentist, it is usually quite safe. The important thing is to find a sedation dentist who is trained and qualified to administer various types of sedation and tailor the treatment to your age and health status.
How to find a sedation dentist near me?
The Express Dentist hotline 1-844-593-0591 is an easy way to find a sedation dentist near you. This dental helpline is a toll-free number that operates 24/7/365, so you can call any time of day or night, any day of the week, including weekends and holidays.
Express Dentist has partnered with leading sedation dentists nationwide. With one quick phone call you can connect to sedation dentistry clinics in your area and get a same-day or next-day appointment.
Call the Express Dentist hotline on 1-844-593-0591 for:
- Various dental treatments with sedation
- Sedation dentistry for children and adults
- High-quality dental car with sedation from accredited providers
- Top-rated sedation dentists nearby
Your calls to the Express Dentist hotline 1-844-593-0591 are free. When you call our toll-free number, you will be connected to a sedation dentist who can perform various types of dental procedures with mild, moderate, and deep sedation.
The Express Dentist hotline gives you instant access to leading sedation dentists in your hometown. Each of our partners is vetted to ensure you receive the highest quality of dental care. Call the Express Dentist hotline at 1-844-593-0591 today to find a sedation dentist near you today.
About the author
Dr. Greg Grillo
Dr. Greg Grillo DDS studied at the University of Washington where he received a bachelors degree with Honors and later attended dental school on the same campus. Following school Dr. Greg served in the United States Navy as a dental officer. During this time he received advanced training in specialty areas of dentistry while also treating families of members of the military.
As well as sharing valuable information on dentistry and oral health, Dr. Greg remains a practicing dentist to this day. He works with families in the Okanogan Valley where he lives with his wife and three children.
- American Dental Association. Oral Health and Well-Being in the United States. Available online. Accessed on June 1, 2021.
- Corcuera-Flores JR, Silvestre-Rangil J, Cutando-Soriano A, López-Jiménez J. Current methods of sedation in dental patients – a systematic review of the literature. Med Oral Patol Oral Cir Bucal. 2016;21(5):e579-e586. Published 2016 Sep 1. doi:10.4317/medoral.20981. Available online. Accessed on June 1, 2021.
- American Dental Association. Guidelines for the Use of Sedation and General Anesthesia by Dentists. Available online. Accessed on June 1, 2021.