a dentist who understands sedation dentistry

What is Sedation Dentistry?

Sedation dentistry involves the use of pain relieving and anti-anxiety medication in order to provide patients with a comfortable and relaxed experience. When considering the use of sedation dentistry, there are multiple factors that you need to keep in mind—including why you’re thinking about sedation in the first place and what risks the process may pose for you. The following will provide you with a general overview of what’s entailed when you choose sedation dentistry and how you can make the safest choice possible.

Benefits of Sedation Dentistry

One of the primary benefits to sedation dentistry is that it allows people who are afraid of dentists or dental work to have a relatively relaxed and pain-free experience. For some, this fear seems ridiculous and irrational, but it’s actually a more serious and wide-reaching problem than many people realize. According to some surveys, up to 75% of adults have at least some anxiety about going to the dentist. If this anxiety is severe enough, it may cause them to avoid dental care altogether, which can put their oral health in jeopardy.

In addition to helping people overcome their fears in the dentist chair, sedation is also used when certain procedures would be too painful to experience without the aid of pain-relieving medications. These range from relatively easy procedures that require light sedation, such as getting a filling, to large-scale oral surgery that may require more powerful forms of pain relief.

Methods of Administering Sedation

There are three primary ways that sedation is administered for dental work—via inhalation, via oral medication, and via IV injections.

  • Inhaled Sedation
    As the name implies, inhaled sedation is administered through a person’s airways. The medication used is a type of gas known as nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas," and it creates sensations of relaxation and euphoria, as well as minimizing sensations of pain. While this method most definitely creates an altered state of consciousness in patients, at no point are they ever completely unaware of their surroundings. Inhaled sedation is ideal for people with only mild anxiety about visiting the dentist and may also be used to minimize pain during simple dental procedures.
  • Oral Sedation
    Oral sedation is the administration of pain relieving and anti-anxiety drugs in pill form. Dentists generally prefer this method because it is easy to control a patient’s dosage, most patients are already familiar with medications used for these purposes, and it is one of the more cost-effective forms of sedation. While many oral drugs are stronger than inhaled sedation, patients still remain conscious under their effects.
  • IV Sedation
    IV injections are one of the most powerful forms of sedation, since the medication is being transported directly to a patient’s bloodstream. Patients who receive IV sedation typically find themselves in a “twilight” state—not fully conscious, but not completely under, as well. While this is an extremely effective form of sedation, it may not be a viable option for people with an intense fear of needles.

Risks of Sedation Dentistry

Even though sedation dentistry is generally safe for most people, there are nevertheless some risks associated with it. An adverse reaction to the medications used is one of the biggest threats of sedation and can occur for a few reasons. For one, some people are simply allergic to one or more of the ingredients used to create these drugs. Additionally, these medications may interact negatively with other drugs that a patient is taking or with an underlying condition a person is suffering from. To help minimize these risks, it’s important to give your dentist a thorough medical history before undergoing sedation. It may also be beneficial to speak with your general physician about any other concerns you have about the process.

Regulation of Sedation Dentistry

Dental boards nationwide very closely monitor the use of sedation medications. Most general dentists are certified to administer the lighter forms of sedation—such as nitrous oxide or oral drugs. However, more powerful options such as IV injections require the completion of a program sponsored by the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA). Most dentists who achieve this certification are oral surgeons who specialize in complex dental procedures. Additionally, a dentist may hire an anesthesiologist who has received the training necessary to administer multiple forms of sedation. 

Last Updated: December 29, 2014