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27 April 2023

Soothing Dental Fears With Sedation

Fear of the dentist can prevent people from receiving the dental treatment they require. Dental anxiety may see someone live with the pain from a damaged or infected tooth rather than see a dentist.

However, dental sedation offers a solution for anyone who suffers from dental anxiety. Your fears do not have to stop you from receiving important oral care.

What Is Sedation Dentistry?

Sedation is used to help those with dental anxiety relax and remain calm during dental appointments. Medications are used to sedate patients according to their fear levels.

This is sometimes referred to as ‘sleep dentistry’, although, in reality, you will usually be awake unless under a general anesthetic. There are four levels of sedatives depending on your degree of dental anxiety as well as the length of your treatment. These are:

  • Minimal, where you become relaxed but remain awake
  • Moderate, from which you are likely to have little recall of the procedure and slur your words if you try to speak
  • Deep, where you may drift off to sleep but can quickly be woken with just a gentle nudge
  • General anesthesia, where you will be unconscious throughout the procedure

A dental professional must have certification to use some forms of sedatives.

Those who are most likely to benefit from sedation dentistry might have:

  • Dental anxiety
  • Low pain threshold
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Fear of needles
  • Sensitive gag reflex
  • Difficulty controlling movements in the dentist’s chair

Sedatives Dentists May Use
There are four main types of sedatives that could be recommended to someone with dental anxiety. Which one you are offered will depend on the degree of your anxiety or fears.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is used on people who require a mild sedative to help them relax during a dental appointment. Most of us will know nitrous oxide by its more familiar name, laughing gas. You inhale the gas through a mask and its calming effects are quick to work.

A dentist can control the flow of laughing gas to ensure you receive the right amount of sedative to keep you relaxed through the appointment. A benefit of laughing gas is that the effects wear off quite quickly once your treatment is complete. This is the one sedative that should allow you to drive home afterward.

Oral Sedation

Oral sedation is given to those requiring a mild to moderate sedative. Typically you are given a pill to take about an hour before your treatment. This tends to be Halcion, a form of Valium. If your child requires an oral sedative, this may be given in a liquid form.

This type of sedative can make you feel groggy, particularly if you are given a larger dose for a moderate sedative. Some people may find they fall asleep in the dentist’s chair, although not too deeply, as you can be woken with a light nudge or shake. As a result, you will need a friend or family member to drive you home after your treatment.

IV Sedation

A sedative can also be delivered directly into the bloodstream through an IV line. This is used for those who need a moderate to deep sedative to relax them through a dental procedure. You might remain conscious with this form of sedative, although you may fall asleep and have no recall of the treatment at all.

You will be monitored throughout the process, and the dosage of the sedative can be adjusted accordingly. This can also be a good sedative option for those undergoing a lengthy dental procedure.

General Anesthesia

This is the one option where you will be unconscious through the procedure. Specialist training is needed to apply general anesthesia, and you will only come around once the sedative wears off. A clinic may use a trained anesthesiologist to apply this deepest type of dental sedative.

What To Expect Before the Procedure

Before any dental procedure, your dentist will discuss sedative options to help quell your fears. They will gather information on your medical history and any medications you are taking. They can then make a more informed recommendation on the most suitable dental sedative for you.

If you are pregnant, you will likely be advised to wait until after the pregnancy before considering a dental sedative.

This consultation is a good time to ask any questions you may have. This could include asking about the dentist’s qualifications and experience in using sedatives. The more you know about the procedure and the more you feel confident in the dentist, the more at ease you might feel.

Before the Procedure

You will usually be asked not to eat or drink anything for at least six hours before your scheduled appointment. If you are on any medication, confirm whether you can continue taking it as normal. Once the sedative takes effect, a local anesthetic may be given to help numb the pain from any dental procedure

After Care

Except for nitrous oxide, you will require a friend or family member to drive you home after having dental sedation. They can ensure you are settled and comfortable once home, where you can rest and wait for the sedative to wear off completely.

You should avoid driving for 24 hours following an oral sedative or a sedative given using an IV line. Your dentist will advise you on eating following your treatment.

Are There Any Side Effects?

Although considered safe, there is always the chance of side effects when using a sedative. This can include:

  • Drowsiness that persists
  • Nausea
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Bruising caused by an IV line

People that are obese or have obstructive sleep apnea may also be advised against using a sedative. This is because certain conditions can increase the risk of complications. It is best to chat with your doctor about the risk from using a sedative if you have any doubts due to underlying health issues.

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