What to Expect with Dental Sedation

Dental sedation doesn’t need to be a fearful or worrisome experience for patients — It’s a very common procedure that makes many dental treatments easier to perform, and helps patients relax and get through the treatment pain-free.

There are a variety of drugs used in dental sedation, and which ones your dentist will use depends on factors like age, weight, overall health, any allergies, anxiety and other medical conditions, and what procedure is being done. They include medications for pain control, to induce sleep, and to help relaxation.

Sedation vs. Anesthesia

Sedation is different from anesthesia. With nearly every dental procedure, a local anesthetic is also used, whether you’re sedated or not. This is usually done with a precisely targeted local injection in your mouth to numb the area being worked on and ensure you don’t feel pain during treatment. Local anesthetic wears off over the course of a few hours after it’s given. There are no special precautions or side effects associated with it, except we usually advise patients to be careful while biting or chewing, to avoid damaging the numbed area while they can’t feel it.

In some major oral surgeries, like wisdom teeth extraction, you may also undergo general anesthesia, which results in a temporary loss of consciousness during the procedure. When this is used, patients are not awake or aware of anything while under anesthesia. Recovery can take up to a day before you’ll be back to normal, and you won’t remember the experience.

Conscious Sedation

More commonly, some form of conscious sedation is used to reduce fear, anxiety and pain in dental office visits. The experience of being sedated is a little different for everyone, but there are some common things you can expect during each kind of sedation. What type of sedation you’ll have depends on what kind of dental work is being done, how long it will take, and your own personal medical history. Often, dental sedation is used for both children and anxious patients to help them relax and get through the procedure calmly and safely. It’s also possible to combine two different forms of sedation for patients who are very anxious or who have challenges or resistances to anesthesia.

Oral Sedation

This is a form of conscious sedation induced with oral medications before the procedure. Oral sedation is good for longer or more complex dental work, and is always customized to the needs of each patient. Patients take a combination of sedatives and anti-anxiety medications before their treatment. When they arrive at the dentist’s office, the dentist gives them additional medication if needed.

When the dentist is sure you’re adequately and safely sedated, he or she can proceed with the needed dental procedures. Patients report this experience is like being half-asleep and half-awake. They often can respond to direct questions or instructions, but don’t remember much about the procedures themselves once the sedation wears off. Typically, people who have oral sedation will be feeling normal again soon, but we don’t suggest that they drive, work, or make big plans for the rest of their day, to allow the effects of the medications to completely clear their system.

Nitrous Oxide

Often called laughing gas, this form of sedation is given in gas form through a nasal mask or tube before and during dental procedures. The gas is odorless and takes effect quickly, and the dose is calculated for each patient. This method is common for sedating children, because its effects fade quickly afterward and its use allows patients to remain fully conscious. What patients report feeling with nitrous oxide sedation is a sense of relaxation, comfort, and happiness, which gives the gas its popular nickname.

There is no memory loss after nitrous oxide sedation, and adult patients can often drive themselves home or go back to work. Children sometimes experience sleepiness or nausea afterward, so it’s best if they don’t return to school or daycare.

At Monterey Peninsula Dental Group, our concern is always our patients’ well-being. We understand that undergoing sedation can be a frightening idea for many people, and we work hard to minimize any associated risks. With any anesthesia or sedation, we carefully monitor each patient’s responses and vital signs to ensure the medications are working throughout the treatment. We also ensure our staff and dentists who administer sedatives and anesthetics are well-trained and qualified to do so, and follow all guidelines for patient safety closely. Your dentist will work with you to explain every step of the sedation process and what you can expect.

How Safe is Sedation Dentistry?

While it may seem being sedated during a dental visit could be risky, that impression couldn’t be farther from the truth. One misconception that leads to worries about sedation dentistry is that it’s like undergoing anesthesia before surgery. In reality, it’s more like taking a prescription sedative for most patients.

For patients who have fears or anxiety about dental work, sedation before procedures actually makes the experience safer and more comfortable. If you struggle with going to the dentist because of worry, fear or anxiety, or if you’ve had negative past experiences with dental work, gentle sedation can help. Other reasons to have sedation dentistry or conscious sedation might include having phobias of needles or drills, having a poor gag reflex or a resistance to anesthetics. Sedation can also help patients who need long, in-depth dental treatments or who have a limited amount of time and need a lot of dental work performed.

At MPDG, we also offer sedation to help children who are very fearful at the dentist’s office, or who have to undergo long dental procedures and may not be able to keep still. Parents are often understandably concerned about having their child sedated. Your MPDG dentist will be happy to talk with you and answer any questions about the safety and efficacy of sedation. For most patients, including children, it is a very safe and comfortable experience.

Types of Sedation

Dental sedation can be done in a few different ways. Choosing a method depends on the patient, what kind of dental work is needed, and how long a procedure might take.

Oral conscious sedation is what is usually referred to when we talk about sedation dentistry. This type of sedation is done with oral medications taken before the dental appointment. The type and amount of sedative medication depends on the patient, and is carefully personalized to ensure the right amount of sedation. These may also include anti-anxiety medication if that is the reason for the sedation.

This method results in a relaxed, half-awake state during the treatment. Patients can still respond to directions from the dentist and won’t be unconscious. With conscious sedation, you’ll need someone to take you to and from the appointment, as driving is not possible for the patient.

Nitrous oxide sedation is another choice, best suited for simpler or shorter treatments, as its effects don’t last as long. It’s especially good for children who may need sedation during routine appointments. Sometimes called laughing gas, it’s administered through a breathing mask or tube, and customized precisely to suit each individual patient. Patients don’t fall asleep during nitrous oxide sedation, and can usually go back to work or drive themselves home afterward.

Risks of Sedation

The safety of our patients is our top concern when using any kind of sedation or anesthetic. We adhere closely to all medical guidelines for amounts of sedative and techniques used to administer them. There are, however, a few factors that might require we avoid the use of sedation for a specific patient. Some lifestyle habits, like smoking and drinking, may affect sedation, as do some medications and health conditions, like sleep apnea. A thorough health history is taken to ensure every patient’s safety.

During sedation, we carefully monitor heart rate, blood pressure and other vital signs, to make sure sedation is safe and effective throughout dental treatment.

Children can sometimes have difficulty dealing with the aftereffects of sedation, which may include dizziness, sleepiness and nausea. We always recommend that children who undergo sedation dentistry do not go back to school or daycare afterward, and that they are monitored by a parent or responsible adult.

We’re also happy to answer any questions or explain steps of sedation and monitoring to patients who are curious about the process. Our staff places the highest priority on making each and every patient feel comfortable with their dental care, and sedation dentistry offers us options for doing just that. Get in touch with your MPDG dentist with any questions or concerns you have about sedation.