A guide to dental sedation and dental sedatives

Sedation dentistry involves performing dental treatment on a patient in an environment that’s stress- and anxiety-free. It’s a way for dentists to help patients overcome common dental phobias. Many people neglect going to the dentist or getting their teeth taken care of because of this phobia. Often, dental problems are left unattended till the very last moment when extreme measures are needed. Through sedation dentistry, patients are able to undergo dental treatments without any of the fear and anxiety that accompanies the treatment. Moreover, sedation dentistry reduces the number of visits required for dental treatment to just a couple of sessions. Sedation dentistry can be used to correct almost any kind of dental condition.

What is sedation?

Sedation is a procedure that makes use of sedative medications to produce a relaxed experience for the patient, enabling the dentist to perform dental procedures. The central nervous system (CNS) is affected through the use of drugs, including tranquilizers and anxiolytics, that can be administered to the patient in several ways.

Sedation dentistry is sometimes erroneously referred to as sleep dentistry. This term, however, is not the fullest meaning of sedation, because the medications you receive don’t exactly put you to sleep, although you are likely to feel sleepy while under sedation. Sedation dentistry is different from general anesthesia, which leads to a deeper state of sleep.

Who is eligible for sedation dentistry?

Any person who is in need of dental treatment, either for health or cosmetic purposes, but has anxiety and fear about undergoing treatment, or has an extreme fear of needles, is likely to benefit from sedation dentistry.

If you have had a history of frightening dental experiences, you may be wary of being in a dentist's chair again, and sedation dentistry can help you overcome this fear.

People who have painful or extremely sensitive teeth will find it hard to cooperate with the dentist while the treatment is going on. Such people can be made to relax using sedation dentistry, facilitating dental treatment.

Other persons who have severe gag reflexes and find it hard to tolerate treatments in the mouth, or persons who suffer from medical conditions like Parkinson’s Disease or Cerebral Palsy and find it difficult to control their body movements can also benefit from the physical relaxation that sedation dentistry offers.

Also, people who are in need of complex and lengthy dental treatments that require a series of dental appointments, or those who want to complete their dental treatment quickly due to lack of time, can also benefit from the reduced dental treatment time that sedation dentistry offers.

Types of sedation

There are a few different types of sedation dentistry that facilitate performing dental procedures. You can read about the different types of sedation dentistry by clicking on the links below:

Other types of sedation:

Intramuscular sedation
Here, a sedative drug is injected into the upper thigh or upper arm muscles to induce sedation. It’s not very commonly used in dentistry.

Local anesthesia
For minor dental procedures, dentists may use a topically applied anesthetic gel that has a numbing effect on the area, before a local anesthetic injection is administered. Under local anesthesia, you continue to be fully aware of your surroundings. The anesthetic dulls the pain, however, so you don’t feel any of the effects of the treatment.

General anesthesia VS sedation dentistry
General anesthesia is used to facilitate oral surgery. It can also be used in people who for any reason are not eligible for sedation dentistry. General anesthesia can lead to a state of unconsciousness, and the side effects may remain for several hours after the surgery or procedure is completed.

Benefits of sedation dentistry

Sedation dentistry has several benefits, both for dentists and patients. For patients, it can mean freedom from anxiety or fear during dental procedures. In cases where a patient has not been able to undergo dental treatment for many years because of this fear, sedation dentistry allows him to have several years worth of dental treatment in just a few sessions.

For dentists, sedation dentistry facilitates the easy performance of dental procedures. Patients are likely to be more cooperative under the relaxing effects of sedation. Treatments can also be quicker, because a number of procedures can be performed in a single session.

  • Patients with a history of abuse are less likely to cooperate during dental treatment, and may need some form of sedation.
  • Even if you have no dental phobias, you can still benefit from sedation when you have to undergo a procedure that can be extremely painful, including gum surgery.
  • Some people can also have unusually located nerves, making it difficult for a dentist to work through administering a local anesthetic.
  • Under certain forms of sedation - like IV sedation, which causes memory loss - you are less likely to remember anything about the procedure.

Non-eligibility for sedation dentistry

  • If you are currently taking other medications, let your dentist know before you begin taking oral sedatives.
  • If you have a history of allergic reaction to other medications, you will need to inform your dentist beforehand.
  • People who have an extreme fear of dentists themselves, rather than the dental treatment, are not likely to be good candidates for sedation. Other persons may have control issues that make them resist sedation. For instance, if you feel that taking sedatives will impair your judgment or that you will not be able to voice your concerns to the dentist, you are likely to resist sedation.
  • Some people are also very scared of sedation itself, making them poor candidates.

Selecting a sedation dentist

  • It’s recommended that you enquire at more than one dentist, and compare their experience with sedation dentistry.
  • Ask the dentist about the procedure, and how many times s/he has made use of sedation to perform a dental procedure.
  • Basic dental training provides limited exposure to sedation dentistry, and a dentist needs to obtain specialized training through continuing education or postgraduate programs.
  • Ask your dentist what kind of sedation s/he is most experienced in. Discuss your sedation procedure in detail, and ask about the kind of monitoring that will be done during the procedure.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you want, and make sure you have all pre- and post-procedure instructions in writing.