It’s a good bet no one actually likes going to the dentist. For one thing, the dentist has to invade your personal space in order to do his or her job. Most dental chairs aren’t exactly comfortable. And even the simplest procedures like cleanings, x-rays and fillings can sometimes be taxing. While many people going to the dentist is unpleasant, they can usually get through it with minimal stress or discomfort.
For other people, going to the dentist isn’t just unpleasant — it is terrifying. In fact, those with a genuine phobia may experience such deep and primal fear it triggers not only anxiety, but also physical symptoms such as heart palpitations or high blood pressure. This, in turn, causes them to avoid seeing a dentist. Lack of routine care can result in serious oral health problems. It can also have adverse effects on their overall health.
Fortunately there is a solution. Sedation dentistry allows patients with genuine fear and anxiety to get the care they need with minimal stress. Keep reading to learn if this may be an option for you.
What is sedation dentistry?
Sedation dentistry is a treatment process involving the use of different drugs or medications to help alleviate a patient’s fear or anxiety. The type of sedatives used and sedation techniques vary based on the extent of the patient’s emotional and/or physical distress, and the type of dental procedure he or she is having.
According to the American Dental Association, there are several different levels of sedation associated with this type of dentistry. These are:
- Minimal sedation, which allows patients to remain awake, but relaxed.
- Moderate sedation, which does not render the patient unconscious, but sometimes causes them to slur their speech and forget what happened during the procedure.
- General anesthesia, which renders the patient fully unconscious.
What is used for sedation dentistry?
Different sedation dentistry techniques involve the administration of different sedatives in different ways.
For example, nitrous oxide gas or “laughing gas,” is classified as minimal or light sedation. It is administered shortly before dental procedures through a device that covers your nose called a nasal cannula.
For patients needing longer dental procedures, or for patients experiencing a greater level of anxiety, a sedation dentist may turn to oral sedation. In this type of treatment, you take medicine (usually diazapam) in pill form a few hours before your dental procedure. Oral sedation tends to make patients sleepy, but does not render them unconscious.
IV sedation is the next method of sedation dentistry. In this type of sedation, the dentist administers diazepam, midazolam, and lorazepam through an intravenous, or IV drip. This is no different from any other medical procedure where medicine is administered through an IV. A needle/catheter is inserted into a vein so it can carry the liquid medication, from a bag attached to a machine through a tube directly into your bloodstream. Your level of consciousness will depend on the amount and type of drug injected. That, in turn, is based on your individual circumstances. The primary benefit of this approach is that it allows the sedation dentist to control the dosage as needed.
Finally, some sedation dentistry patients may require general sedation. In this case, the sedative causes complete loss of consciousness. Accordingly, it is only used for extensive procedures, such as oral surgery.
How long does dental sedation last?
Because you inhale it, you feel the relaxing effects of nitrous oxide straight away. These effects also fade quickly (sometimes within a few minutes)after the supply ceases. some experts recommend that patients refrain from engaging in daily activities for at least 45 minutes after the procedure.
Experts agree that the effects of oral sedation and IV sedation take longer to subside. Therefore, they also urge individuals who have had a procedure using these types of sedation dentistry to take it easy after their appointment. Specifically, you should wait until the effects have dissipated prior to:
- Going back to work
- Consuming alcohol
- Smoking or using any products containing nicotine
- Taking sleeping pills
- Using any machinery, appliances, knives, scissors or any other sharp tools
- Using the stove or oven
- Making important decisions
Am I a good candidate for conscious sedation?
If you have a genuine fear of going to the dentist, talk to your dentist about various options, including conscious sedation. You may also want to talk to your dentist about oral conscious sedation or IV sedation if you have a severe gag reflex or tooth sensitivity. You may also be a good candidate if you cannot handle the sounds or smells associated with dental procedures, or if you have had traumatic dental experiences in the past.