If a patient has anxiety about a pending dental treatment and wishes to opt for more than a simple local anesthetic, sedation dentistry can be a great option. At the office of Dr. Steven C. Hewett, every effort is made to ensure that each patient’s experience is as stress-free as possible. We use a minimal sedation approach that creates a completely painless experience for the patient.
What Types of Sedation Are Used for Dentistry?
There are several different sedation methods used in dentistry today, which we will discuss below. All of these methods are designed to calm a patient before and during their treatment, and to make them more comfortable during longer procedures. In the case of implant and reconstructive procedures, being sedated is always recommended, but it can also be helpful for patients who experience anxiety during more routine treatments.
Properly administered sedation means that a patient may not even remember the procedure at all, even if they were partially awake for it. The forms of sedation used in modern dentistry tend to be mild, but they are still highly effective at calming nervous patients and at ensuring a positive in-office experience. They are also completely safe with very low risk of side effects.
Nitrous Oxide (“Laughing Gas”)
Having been in use for more than a hundred years, nitrous oxide is one of the oldest sedation methods used in dentistry today. Also known as laughing gas, this colorless, odorless substance is breathed in through a fitted mask. It works very quickly to relax the patient, but also wears off quickly, allowing the patient to return to a normal level of alertness within minutes. The effects are mild, and the patient usually remains awake through their treatment.
One advantage of not being completely asleep during the treatment is that the patient can still hear and respond to what the dentist is saying. The dentist can gradually increase or decrease the amount of gas being administered, allowing the patient to become more alert within minutes if needed.
Oral sedation is another form of conscious sedation, but this involves taking a dose of a prescribed sedative by mouth, usually in the form of a pill. For patients who are particularly anxious, the dentist may recommend taking one pill several hours before their procedure, or even the night before, and another one closer to their appointment time. Of course, any patient who takes a pill prior to their appointment will need to arrange for transportation to the office.
As with nitrous oxide, the patient will technically be awake during their treatment, but they will experience no discomfort and will recall very little about the experience after their sedation wears off. This is the most cost-effective and straightforward sedation option for the patient, and very simple to administer.
This is a less commonly used type of sedation dentistry, as most patients prefer to not have an IV inserted if it can be avoided. The advantage of using an IV is that the amount of anesthesia can vary from a “twilight” effect, where the patient is partially conscious, to a full general anesthesia effect where the patient is completely asleep.
Note that it is not common to use general anesthesia in dentistry, except in rare circumstances where a patient will be undergoing extensive oral surgery. There are also some patients who are resistant to sedation and need something stronger for there to be an effect. In most cases, mild sedation is all that is needed to ensure a pain-free and anxiety-free experience for the patient.
Do You Need Sedation Dentistry?
Prior to your dental work, talk to your dentist about any fears and concerns you may have. Anxiety about a trip to the dentist is very common, but putting off an appointment due to fear can have negative repercussions. It is much better to undergo mild sedation than it is to have a dental problem escalate due to treatment avoidance. Remember that sedation is generally safe and that your dentist will recommend the best type of sedation for your specific case.
Some patients have particularly sensitive teeth – this can be due to thinning enamel, receding gums, or genetic factors. There is no need to experience discomfort while at the dentist, so if this is a concern, relief can be provided.
Fear is not always rational, but it can feel very real and can get in the way of our ability to get important things done. If anxiety is keeping you from scheduling treatment or procedure, it is definitely worth discussing sedation with your dentist. Likewise, if you think that some of the sounds and smells of the dental offices might act as an anxiety trigger for you, it’s important for your dentist to know this in advance.
Gag Reflex Control
Some people have a particularly sensitive gag reflex, which can make dental visits uncomfortable. If this described you, you might find that even simple dental treatments can be unpleasant. Mild sedation can significantly relax this reflex.
More Extensive Procedures
For patients undergoing oral surgery or a longer, more involved procedure, being sedated is always recommended. Dental anesthesia can keep the patient comfortable for whatever length of time is required.
How Safe Is it To Be Sedated?
Sedation, even for the longer periods required by oral surgery, is completely safe. Unlike general anesthesia, which can have some risk of side effects, the types of sedation methods used in dentistry are mild and wear off very quickly. While not every patient will be a good match for every sedation method, a qualified dentist will be able to choose the best method and dosage for your particular case.
Knowing Your Medical History
It is important to share your medical history with your dentist so that they can determine the best sedation plan for you. This includes divulging any medication and supplements you are currently taking.
In some cases, it might be recommended to monitor a patient’s blood pressure or heart rate while they are under even mild sedation. In other instances, a particular brand of oral sedative might not be recommended because it could interact with other medication the patient is on. This is why patients must be completely transparent about their medical status before choosing a sedation option.
Working with a Skilled Dentist
Make sure your dentist is properly trained and experienced in dental sedation. While the risk of adverse reaction is very low, it is still important that your dentist be able to calculate the appropriate dose for your age, weight, and health status. Your dentist must also be equipped to monitor your vital signs while you are under sedation. Of course, anyone administering a sedative must be licensed and certified to do so.
Who Is Eligible for Dental Sedation?
Sedation dentistry can be used on patients of any age, from young children up to the very elderly. As long as the dentist is aware of the patient’s medical status, there is normally no reason that sedation would not be recommended. In rare cases where a particular form of sedation is not advisable, there is usually another sedation method that can safely be used on the patient.
Are There Side Effects?
Complications are very rare with sedation dentistry, but patients can expect to feel drowsy as their sedative of choice wears off. How long this drowsiness lasts can vary depending on the type of sedative that was used. The effects of laughing gas, for example, wear off very quickly – some patients are even able to drive home afterwards.
In the case of IV sedation, the level of drowsiness depends on how much anesthesia was used. It is always recommended that patients have someone else to drive them home from their appointment. If using an oral sedative, the effects can take several hours to wear off completely, so you would definitely need assistance getting home. Drinking plenty of water after your treatment is a good way to speed up the time it takes for the sedative’s effects to diminish.
Take the Anxiety Out of Your Next Dental Visit
If you have been putting off an important dental procedure, or tend to avoid professional dental care due to anxiety, ask us about the safest and most effective dental sedation options that might be right for you. Contact us today at the office of Dr. Steven C. Hewett so that we can plan a pain-free and stress-free dental care experience for you.