When people have anxiety about pain or about the dentist in general, they often opt for what is sometimes called sleep dentistry. The different styles of dental sedation are what make sleep dentistry possible, although not all sedation dentistry involves actual sleep, but some do. Find out about the options, then talk with your dentist about the right dental sedation for your next procedure.
Dental sedation covers a variety of techniques used to either calm a patient before and during a dental procedure or to make patients more comfortable during long procedures. You’re probably familiar with laughing gas, which many people receive before dental procedures such as getting crowns or root canals. However, dental sedation is a more varied and complex field than just laughing gas, with lots of options for patients who feel anxiety or even fear at the thought of going to the dentist’s office.
Dental sedation is not part of the pain management your dentist will give you. Numbing agents and shots cover that part of the procedure. However, if getting a shot in your gums is frightening to you, dental sedation can calm you to a point where you can handle receiving that shot. With certain types of sedation, you may not even remember receiving the procedure, even though you’re awake for it.
Nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas, is used to relax patients during dental procedures. You’ll be conscious while taking laughing gas, but because it’s a gas, it wears off very quickly once you stop breathing it in. Patients who only receive laughing gas as a sedative are often allowed to drive themselves home after a procedure.
When you receive laughing gas, the dentist gives you a nose apparatus through which you breathe the gas. The effects are very mild, and you’ll start to feel the gas very quickly, sometimes as soon as 30 seconds after you start breathing it in. Some patients relax enough with nitrous oxide and do not require another form of sedation. Other patients need laughing gas on top of oral sedation.
Oral sedation, also called “conscious sedation,” involves you taking a prescribed dose of sedative before your procedure. Depending on your case, you may take one pill the night before, and one pill an hour before you have the procedure, or otherwise as directed by your dentist or doctor. This type of sedation leaves you awake for the procedure, but significantly relaxes you. Patients who have higher levels of anxiety often benefit from this type of dentistry.
Though you’re awake during your procedure, most patients remember either very little or nothing at all of the appointment after it’s happened. Depending on your case, while you’re under oral sedation, you may be hooked up to equipment that monitors your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing, or you may not require that kind of monitoring. It depends on factors which your dentist will determine. The sedative will leave you feeling sleepy, but by the next day all the effects will have worn off. You’ll need a ride home from the dentist, though, so plan with a friend or family member in advance.
IV sedation has a few variations: the first is what’s known as “twilight,” where you’re conscious, but not very aware of your surroundings. Twilight IV sedation makes you feel sleepy, and you may not remember any of the procedure once it’s over. However, you are not unconscious, and if the dentist needs to wake you up, it’s possible.
The other option is general anesthesia, which is relatively uncommon as far as sleep dentistry goes. Only patients who need significant oral surgery, or who are resistant to other types of sedation, will need general anesthesia. With general anesthesia, you’re totally unconscious. This kind of sedation needs to happen in a hospital or a specialized clinic with either a nurse anesthetist or an anesthesiologist administering the sedative and monitoring your vital signs.
Almost all dentists can give you laughing gas or prescribe you oral sedation pills. More dentists are becoming certified in offering the “twilight” type of IV sedation. However, to give any sort of deep sedation or general anesthesia, a dentist needs to complete a special program about deep sedation, first. In British Columbia, the CDSBC regulates approval for dentists to provide deep or general anaesthesia, and it’s often dental surgeons who seek that qualification. Some dentists will work with a dental anesthesiologist, who has the training to safely give IV sedation.
Talk to your dentist about your fears and concerns before your appointment for dental work. Your dentist will recommend the type of sedation that will help in your specific case. Sometimes patients who have sensitive nerves or small mouths need sedation, simply because procedures cause more pain and discomfort in these patients. Other patients need sedation to overcome anxieties and fears associated with the dentist or with medical procedures.