Sedation Dentistry: Your Path to Stress-free Dental Wellness
An alarming number of people avoid going to the dentist due to fear or severe anxiety regarding dental procedures or the environment of a dental office (like the sound of a drill). According to recent statistics, approximately 36% of Americans struggle with some level of dental phobia.
Regardless of the reason someone fears the dentist, we shouldn’t let it prevent us from accessing the essential healthcare we need. One effective way to get treatment despite this fear is with conscious sedation.
What is Conscious Sedation Dentistry?
“Conscious sedation” includes a variety of methods of sedating patients while maintaining consciousness (many patients actually fall asleep because they are so relaxed). This means the patient can respond to prompts when queued. This differs from general anesthesia, which causes unconsciousness and requires medical support.
Conscious sedation can utilize inhaled, oral, or intravenous medications. Oral medications are the most commonly used sedatives in dentistry.
Who is a Good Candidate for Conscious Sedation Dentistry?
Conscious sedation is an option for a wide variety of people. Because sedation slows the heart rate and breathing, the patient must have relatively good heart and lung health. Your dentist will review your medical history thoroughly to ensure that you are a good candidate for conscious sedation.
Because conscious sedation reduces the patient’s awareness of the sensations of a dental visit, it helps patients with a range of problems, like:
- Dental anxiety
- A fear of visiting the dentist
- An overly sensitive gag reflex
- A fear of needles
- Extreme teeth sensitivity
- Difficulty controlling movements
Is Conscious Sedation Dentistry Safe for Kids?
Children metabolize drugs differently than adults. For this reason, any sedation of children needs to be under the care of a board-certified pediatric dentist or a general dentist with specific training in pediatric sedation.
Because children often have fears of dental procedures that they are unable to manage or control, some dental treatments can be extremely difficult without the aid of sedation. If your child needs essential dental care and is unable to tolerate the dental procedures while fully awake, our team can discuss your child’s options with you.
How is Conscious Sedation Administered?
We mentioned above that sedative medications can be inhaled, taken as an oral medication, or injected intravenously. We’ll explain the differences briefly here.
Inhaled Sedation - Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide, commonly referred to as “laughing gas,” is an inhalation anesthetic that acts as an effective anxiety reducer. Its calming effect often allows a patient to relax enough that he or she may fall asleep, but it is not strictly a sedative.
Nitrous oxide is the most mild form of dental sedation and is great for many children because of the fast onset and history of safe use when administered appropriately. Your dentist will monitor and adjust the dosage to help you reach the most comfortable state prior to beginning any treatment. Nitrous oxide also has no hangover effect, so patients who inhale it for a dental visit are soon able to drive themselves, pick up children, or return to work if needed.
With oral medication, your dentist prescribes a pill that you take to help you relax. The time of onset varies for every individual, so you often have to arrive at the office early, take the medication, then wait for it to begin working. Most people sleep under the effects of oral sedation, but some do not, as your medical history plays an important part in how effective the medication will work.
Oral sedation is very safe, but it is difficult to adjust the dosage during treatment, so its effects are less predictable. Oral sedation is one of the more commonly used types of sedation in dentistry due to its accessibility and high rate of acceptance by patients.
Oral sedation will linger in the system for several hours after the dental visit, so patients should not drive themselves and must spend the rest of the day resting at home to metabolize the medication.
Intravenous (IV) Sedation
IV sedation is very safe for healthy people and produces predictable, adjustable levels of sedation. This method of sedation is commonly used in oral and maxillofacial surgery offices for the extraction of wisdom teeth and other more complex surgical procedures. Many general dentists do not offer IV sedation because it requires more training and education than other sedation options. It also produces a lingering effect, so patients will require a responsible adult driver and time to recover.
What Does Conscious Sedation Feel Like?
Humans have a wide range of responses to medication, so every experience of sedation will feel different. In general, conscious sedation produces drowsiness and sleep at effective doses. Those who do not sleep will experience reduced fear and anxiety due to the reduced awareness of the sights, sounds, and smells of the dental office.
The drowsiness and sluggishness it produces will typically linger for several hours, so patients are advised not to drive for at least twelve hours after dismissal from the office.
Start Your Path to Stress-Free Care Today
If you experience dental anxiety, you should speak with your dentist about your sedation options. Conscious sedation can help you undergo the dental treatments you need without pain, discomfort, or fear. If you or a loved one are ready to move forward with the treatment you need to improve your oral health, contact us today.