Dental Sedation and Anesthesia: Procedure,Treatment Options and Aftercare

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Estimates suggest that up to 15 percent of people in the U.S. avoid going to the dentist because of severe dental phobia. To help patients overcome their intense fear of dental procedures, more dentists now offer some form of dental sedation or anesthesia. You can plan for your own upcoming dental visit by learning what your options are for undergoing sedation or anesthesia during your procedure.

What is Dental Sedation and Dental Anesthesia?

Dental sedation and anesthesia are two forms of treatment that dentists provide to ease the anxiety and fear that some patients may experience before and during their procedures. Both anesthesia and sedation are available in several different forms. The most common options available to patients today are:

  • Minimal anesthesia: With minimal anesthesia, you are still awake but relaxed during the dental treatment. He or she will remember the procedure being performed but should not feel anxious or fearful during it. Nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas.” falls into this category and is believed to be the most common type of sedation.
  • Moderate anesthesia: Moderate anesthesia, sometimes called Intravenous Conscious Sedation, involves the use of IV sedation to relax and calm the patient. The patient remains awake during the procedure. However, he or she may not remember much if anything about what occurred during the treatment.
  • Deep sedation: Deep sedation also is a form of IV sedation. It brings the patient to the edge of consciousness. The patient is not asleep but instead intensely relaxed and minimally alert. He or she should not recall anything about the procedure being done. The patient can also be easily awakened after the treatment is finished.
  • General sedation: General sedation is a form of IV sedation during which the patient is put to sleep or rendered unconscious. The patient should be easily awakened afterward with a gentle shake of the arm or leg.

These forms of sedation and anesthesia involve the use of medications that are administered carefully by the dentist. Minimal anesthesia typically utilizes nitrous oxide or laughing gas, which is administered directly to the patient via a mask placed over his or her nose. Your dentist may also use a medication called Halcion, which is similar to Valium. You take Halcion an hour before your procedure, typically in pill form. In this form of sedation, known as enteral sedation, you feel relaxed and don’t feel anxious or fearful about the oral surgery you’re about to undergo.

Relaxing patients before and after dental visits through the use of dental sedation can be used for most types of dental procedures including:

  • Root canals
  • Extractions
  • Cosmetic whitening
  • Crowns and implants
  • Fillings
  • Routine care like cleanings

Dental sedation and anesthesia are generally safe for most patients to receive. As with any medical treatment, it does come with a few rare but possible risks, including death. People who are obese or suffer from obstructive sleep apnea tend to be at the highest risk of suffering complications from dental anesthesia and sedation.

Only dentists who have completed the Commission on Dental Accreditation training can perform dental sedation and anesthesia. It is also commonly administered by maxillofacial and oral surgeons as well as dentist anesthesiologists who have undergone the appropriate medical training.

The type of sedation or anesthesia that you receive during your dental visit depends on the type of procedure you will receive. It also depends on other factors, such as your age and overall health.

Dental Sedation Aftercare

After you have received sedation or anesthesia at the dentist’s office, it’s crucial for you to follow your dental provider’s aftercare instructions. He or she may advise you to:

  • Remain in the care of a loved one or friend for 24 hours to safeguard against complications.
  • Avoid driving or operating heavy machinery.
  • Avoid taking medications that make you drowsy as the effects of the sedation or anesthesia can be more intense when paired with some medicines.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol for 24 hours after your procedure.
  • Avoid making important legal decisions for 24 hours after your treatment.
  • Eat small frequent meals to avoid nausea and vomiting.

You should visit your doctor immediately if you develop hives, rash, or itchy and swollen skin. You or the friend or relative staying with you should call 911 if you have difficulties breathing or you cannot be woken after receiving oral sedation.

Dental sedation and anesthesia allow nervous and anxious patients to relax during their procedures. The type that you undergo will depend on the training of your dentist as well as your overall health and age. Sedation or anesthesia can make future visits to the dentist easier for you to endure.


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