The Comprehensive Guide To Sedation Dentistry: What To Know

The Comprehensive Guide To Sedation Dentistry: What To Know

It is important to have regular dental check-ups and cleanings to ensure that your teeth are always healthy. However, if you’re one of the 40 million Americans that avoid going to the dentist out of anxiety or fear, be reassured in knowing that you’re not alone. But we can assure you that there is a sedative method that will alleviate your anxiety and make your regular dental visits a calm and confident endeavor.

Dental Phobia and Dental Anxiety

If you find ways to avoid your dental appointments, or only go to the dentist when a toothache forces you to, you may be one of the 9-20% of Americans who have dental anxiety or maybe even a dental phobia. If you have dental anxiety this means that you go longer than most to get your teeth cleaned, your hands get clammy when you’re in the dentist’s waiting room, and you get nervous sitting in the dentist chair. If you have a dental phobia you avoid the dentist at all costs, you don’t sleep well the night before an appointment, and you feel sick when you’re at the dentist. If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, take comfort in knowing that there are millions of people who feel the same way, and that there is a sedative method that will help you to feel more relaxed and comfortable at the dentist.

What is Dental Sedation?

Depending on your phobia or anxiety level, there are four main types of sedation practices that will help you through your dental appointment. These four types of sedation include oral sedatives, intravenous sedation, nitrous oxide sedation, and general anesthesia. Utilization of these sedatives make it possible for those who would otherwise avoid the dentist, have the dental care that they need.

Oral Sedatives

Oral sedatives like diazepam are designed to relax a patient before their dental procedure. This medication is meant to be taken the night prior to your appointment or if you’re extremely anxious only thirty to sixty minutes before the procedure. However, this type of sedative simply relaxes you and does not provide any pain relief so a local anesthetic will also be necessary.

Intravenous Sedation

This is another type of anti-anxiety medication, so similar to an oral sedative it does not provide pain relief and will need to be paired with some type of local anesthetic. Through intravenous sedation, medication is delivered through the vein that causes the patient to fall asleep, making them completely unaware of the procedure. Common medication for intravenous sedation include Fentanyl, Versed, Ketamine, and Diprivan. If you choose this type of sedation you will wear a nasal tube that delivers oxygen and your vital signs will be monitored closely.

Nitrous Oxide Sedation

Nitrous oxide is a popular sedation method because it is used as a sedative and it is able to control your pain as well. Another term for nitrous oxide is laughing gas, it is administered by a nasal tube and allows the patient to remain conscious but in an extremely relaxed state. Although this method of sedation has some pain controlling properties, a local anesthetic will also be given to eliminate all pain.

General Anesthesia

The licensed and trained dentist administers the general anesthesia to a patient via an IV, they are then put into a very relaxed state and will sleep through their appointment. Vitals are monitored throughout the appointment to ensure safety, and the patient will not remember their appointment upon waking.

Levels of Dental Sedation

Once you and your dentist have discussed which sedative method will be best for you, together you can then decide what level of dental sedation will be necessary for your procedure. There are four different stages of dental sedation and they include, anxiolysis, conscious sedation, deep sedation, and unconscious.


Anxiolysis is often referred to as a light sedation, while there are many types of sedatives that can induce anxiolysis, the most common method used is nitrous oxide. This level of sedation is ideal for someone who suffers from a mild case of dental anxiety.

Conscious Sedation

Conscious sedation is usually a level achieved through the use of nitrous oxide or IV sedation. In this level of sedation the patient will be conscious and capable of following orders and answering questions, but they will be in extremely relaxed and calm. This degree of sedation is perfect for someone with extreme dental anxiety and maybe a mild phobia.

Deep Sedation

In this level of sedation, the patient is not quite unconscious, but not completely conscious either. While in deep sedation, patients will be unable to respond to orders consistently and will also need a nasal tube to deliver oxygen consistently. Deep sedation is usually reserved for those who suffer from dental phobia.


This level of sedation is meant only for those patients undergoing oral surgery. General anesthesia is administered to the patient making them completely unconscious.

Is Sedation Right For You?

Now that you’re aware of the different types of dental sedation as well as their varying levels, you may be curious as to whether or not getting sedated during your next dental appointment is something for you. If any of the following apply to you, be sure to talk to your dentist about getting sedated.

  • The dentist makes you anxious
  • You have a hard time controlling your movement (ex. shaking your legs or hands when nervous.)
  • You have sensitive teeth.
  • You’ve had traumatizing experiences in the past.
  • You have a hard time getting numb
  • You have a fear of needles
  • You have complicated dental problems.

Make An Appointment

Don’t let fear or anxiety keep you from going to the dentist. You deserve to have a happy, healthy smile. While talking to the receptionist to make your next dental appointment, inform them of your fears and concerns. They can help you schedule the necessary appointment to undergo some level of sedation during your exam, cleaning, or major restorative work.

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