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What is Sedation Dentistry? Most Common Relaxation Techniques for Dental Procedures

For many, the mere thought of a dental appointment stirs up anxiety and fear. Fortunately, medical professionals can find alternatives to ensure patients can undergo dental treatments without a hitch. One alternative method is sedation dentistry, which utilizes medication to help patients relax during dental procedures.

Sedation dentistry is often colloquially known as “sleep dentistry.” However, that term is only partially accurate since patients are usually awake, except in cases involving general anesthesia. If you’ll be undergoing sedation dentistry with your dentist soon, this article may help you understand everything about it.

Types of Sedation Dentistry

1. Nitrous Oxide

For those who are not familiar with what conscious sedation dentistry is, it is basically nitrous oxide. Also known as laughing gas, it is a relatively minimal sedation to help patients relax during their dental procedure. Nitrous oxide is inhaled through a mask, which makes the patient feel comfortable and less anxious.

Despite its soothing effects, patients are still conscious and able to communicate with the dental team. Once the mask is removed, the effects of the gas wear off almost immediately, allowing the patient to go home by themselves after their procedure.

2. Oral Conscious Sedation

Some patients may also ask what oral sedation dentistry is. This sedation method uses medication that a patient takes orally (usually in pill form) to reduce their anxiety before and during a dental procedure. This moderate sedation is typically administered about an hour before the procedure to allow enough time for it to become effective.

Patients will remain conscious during the procedure but will be in a state of deep relaxation. They may also feel drowsy and even doze off but can be easily awakened and are able to respond to simple instructions. Due to the extended recovery time, patients will need to have someone drive them home afterward.

3. Intravenous (IV) Sedation

What is IV sedation dentistry, you may ask? It involves administering a sedative drug directly into a patient’s bloodstream through a vein, usually in the arm or hand. It provides deep sedation and is often used for complex procedures or on patients with high levels of anxiety.

Unlike general anesthesia, which leads to total unconsciousness, this sedation method puts the patient in a state of deep relaxation where they are unaware of the procedure but can still respond to stimuli or directions from the dentist if needed. Recovery from IV sedation takes longer, and the patient will require assistance to get home.

Who Is An Ideal Candidate for Oral Sedation Dentistry?

  • Patients With High Levels of Fear or Anxiety About Dental Visits. Dental anxiety can be a significant barrier to receiving necessary dental care. Sedation dentistry allows them to feel more relaxed and comfortable during their dental procedures.
  • Patients With Low Pain Thresholds or Sensitive Teeth. Some people naturally experience higher levels of discomfort during dental procedures. They can use sedation to numb the mouth and reduce pain.
  • Patients Undergoing Complex or Lengthy Dental Procedures. Large amounts of dental work done in a single visit can be too much for some patients. Sedation can help the patient comfortably endure longer procedures.
  • Individuals Who Have a Strong Gag Reflex. A sensitive gag reflex can make dental work challenging. Sedation may decrease the gag reflex, making dental procedures easier for both the patient and the dentist.
  • Patients With Special Needs or Cognitive Impairments. Sedation can greatly manage movement and behavior in patients, making the process safer and easier for all involved.
  • Patients With Specific Medical Conditions. Conditions such as Parkinson’s disease or cerebral palsy can cause involuntary movement, which can complicate dental work.

Remember, not everyone is a candidate for each type of sedation. Doctors will consider factors such as the patient’s overall health, age, weight, allergies, medical history, and current medications before determining if dental sedation is a safe option. Always consult with a healthcare provider before making a decision.

What to Expect After Sedation Dentistry

After experiencing sedation dentistry, the medical staff monitors the patient for a short period to ensure their safety and comfort while the sedation effects wear off. Recovery times vary depending on the type of sedation used. Those who received nitrous oxide can typically leave the dental office almost immediately after the procedure, as the effects wear off very quickly.

However, patients who were given oral sedation or IV sedation will need to arrange for someone to drive them home, as it takes longer for the sedation to wear off completely, and it is not safe to operate a vehicle.

Patients might feel drowsy for several hours after the procedure. Doctors will advise them to rest and avoid strenuous activities for the rest of the day. Some may also experience mild side effects such as dry mouth, mild headaches, or nausea, but these generally resolve on their own after a while.

Your dentist will provide specific aftercare instructions based on the type of sedation and dental procedure performed. You need to follow their instructions to ensure a smooth recovery. If you have any questions or concerns following your procedure, or if you experience prolonged or severe discomfort, you should contact your dental office immediately.

What to Prepare Before Getting Sedation Dentistry

Preparing for a sedation dentistry appointment is essential to ensure the dental procedure does not go wrong. Here are several steps you can take to prepare for your visit:

  • Fast Before Your Appointment. If you’re undergoing IV sedation or certain types of oral sedation, your dentist may require you to fast (not eat or drink) for a specific period before your appointment. Your dentist will provide you with detailed instructions based on the type of sedation you’ll be receiving.
  • Wear Comfortable Clothing. Choose loose-fitting, comfortable clothes for your visit. This will help you feel more relaxed both before and after the dental surgery, and it allows easy access for the dentist or anesthesiologist to administer IV sedation if required.
  • Arrange for Transportation. Because sedation will impair your ability to drive, make sure you have someone available to take you home after your appointment. This is crucial for your safety and is typically required by dental practices.
  • Follow Pre-Procedure Instructions. Your dental office may give you specific instructions related to your regular medications or about taking pre-sedation medication. It’s important to follow these instructions carefully to avoid any complications during sedation.
  • Communicate Any Medical Changes. If you notice any changes in your health or medications since you last spoke with your dentist, make sure to inform them before your sedation dentistry procedure. Even minor changes can impact how you respond to sedation.

Improve Your Dental Visits With Sedation Dentistry

Sedation dentistry is revolutionizing the way patients experience dental procedures, offering a serene route to improving oral health. Remember that every person reacts differently to new things, which is why dentists need to find ways to ensure their patients are relaxed and calm when undergoing complex dental procedures.

At Sugar Loaf Smiles, we make sure all of our patients know what to expect when they undergo sedation dentistry. If you wish to learn more about dental sedation, contact us to schedule an appointment so that we can answer some of your questions, like what oral conscious sedation dentistry is.

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Dr. George Zohrabyan

Dr. George grew up in Decatur, Georgia and attended Fernbank Elementary. When his family moved to Roswell, GA he rigorously involved himself in various community service projects. It was here that he realized his passion for helping others would define his career path.

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