We’re trying to make dental anxiety a thing of the past. Sedation dentistry, also called sleep dentistry is one way to accommodate patients who are severely afraid of the dentist. Sedation isn’t just providing a medication during treatment – it’s your entire experience at a dental office. It’s catering to your comfort. It’s understanding doctor-patient communication. Most importantly, it’s earning your trust.  A sedation dentist should always be a good listener before treatment. That is the combination that makes sedation dentistry effective for even the most dental phobic patients.

If you’re dreading an upcoming dentist appointment or have been avoiding for years, a sedation dentist may be the perfect option for you. But if you’ve never experienced it, you might be wondering what it feels like. Depending on the dental sedation option you choose, you may feel mildly relaxed or even fall asleep during your procedure. Here’s what you need to know about dental sedation.

What does sedation dentistry feel like

Sedation dentistry can be divided into three categories, which describe the way dental sedation is administered. It’s easiest to describe the experience of how sedation feels based on the type. The three main methods of dental sedation are:

Inhalational: Inhalation sedation is when a patient wears a small mask on their nose. During the procedure, the patient breathes in a gas that reduces their anxiety. Although many types may be used, the most common gas used for dental sedation is nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is also commonly called laughing gas. The gas is administered combined with increased levels of oxygen than found in the ambient air. All the patient has to do is breathe through their nose and the effects are felt.

The patient is asked to rest and breathe the laughing gas for 5 minutes. You will feel a general euphoria as if they heard a great joke even if nothing was said (this is why nitrous oxide is called laughing gas.) Many patients feel warm, happy, and occasionally may feel giggly. The effects help to reduce mild to moderate anxiety, but will not reduce severe anxiety completely. Nitrous oxide will also never induce sleep. The way we describe nitrous oxide is the level of euphoria felt when having a couple of glasses of wine. It helps to reduce some mild jitters but monumental fear would still not be subdued. When your treatment is over, the gas is reduced, and the effects wear off within minutes. Unlike the effects of alcohol, there is no hangover and no lasting effects after the gas is turned off. Patients can drive to and from their appointment and may return to work immediately after the procedure if needed.

Dental Oral Sedation: Oral sedation for dentistry has become a very common option for sedation dentistry. The patient is given a medication to place under their tongue before beginning the procedure. The medication is typically a type of medication in the benzodiazepine family. Common forms of benzodiazepines used in sedation dentistry are triazolam, lorazapam, and ambien. The medication takes about 30-60 minutes to take effect. The patient will feel relaxed, sleepy, and with reduced affect for their surroundings. The patient will remain conscious during the procedure but may also fall in and out of sleep. The patient may remember some of the procedure but often do not remember any of it. The sedation dentist and their team will continuously monitor your vital signs during the procedure and maintain safety at all times. It is important to note that oral sedation dentistry is ideal for moderate dental anxiety. The main disadvantage of oral sedation is the level of control over the depth of sedation. Because the oral medications take a 30 to 60 minutes to take effect it can be difficult to titrate to the ideal level of sedation for severe dental phobia.

Dental IV Sedation: During IV sedation, medication is administered intravenously, or directly into a vein. The patient will typically be given an oral medication before the procedure so that they enter already in a relaxed state. The patient rests in the dental chair with a blanket as an IV is started. The patient is first given fluids and then medications are then introduced slowly until the patient is comfortable. The medications can easily be titrated during the entire procedure to keep the patient at the optimum level of sedation comfort. With IV sedation there is also more control in the selection of medication. Typically a patient can be given medications for anxiety, pain, and to promote sleep. Medications used can be reversed quickly through the IV which makes IV sedation very safe. The level of sedation is still within the realm that the patient can easily be awoken if needed, but they may also sleep during the procedure. If a patient does wake up during the procedure they generally will feel relaxed, euphoric, and careless.

Also keep in mind that some anxious patients may benefit by combining two or all three of the types of sedation administration. For example, by combining nitrous oxide and oral sedation it might help an anxious patient to overcome their anxiety than oral sedation or laughing gas individually. Combining two roots of administration can also be used to decrease the risk of any adverse effects. When roots of administration are combined lower doses of medication can be used which helps to reduce side effects of each of the individual medications

Sedation Dentistry Tips

Protip #1: When you receive oral sedation or IV sedation, you will need to arrange for a ride home from the office (and also to the office, if you take the medication at home before your appointment). Set this up with a friend or family member before the treatment date.

Protip #2: For oral sedation or IV sedation, you will need to fast for at least 6 hours before your procedure. Nitrous oxide does not require fasting.

Protip #3: Regardless of dental sedation used, the sedation dentist will always numb the mouth with a local anesthetic. When you wake up at the end of the procedure you will not be in pain.

Protip #4: Dental sedation is complex but extremely safe. The medications used have low side effects and can always be easily reversed.

Protip #5: Always seek out a top-rated sedation dentist in your area who is board-certified, and who has renowned experience for treating dental phobia.

Who is an ideal candidate to see a sedation dentist

Although many types of patients find sedation dentistry beneficial for a variety of types of treatment, patients who benefit from sedation dentistry have:

  • A fear or anxiety of being at the dentist
  • A hard time sitting still for long periods of time
  • A hard time getting (and staying) numb from anesthetics
  • A desire to have several of their treatment needs to be corrected in as few visits as possible