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What Happens When I Get Sedated at the Dentist?

If the thought of getting your teeth cleaned makes you tense up and you’d rather suffer from a toothache than visit the dentist, sedation dentistry can literally save your smile. Dental sedation can be used for any procedure, from a simple tooth cleaning to major oral surgery. Your dentist can offer many forms of sedation, from the mildest relaxation to complete unconsciousness, and she’ll discuss the correct types of sedation for your dental procedures and stress level.

Who Needs Sedation Dentistry?

Almost everyone opts for some type of pain medication when undergoing a dental procedure, but sometimes a simple series of novocaine shots aren’t enough to do the job. Intense dental fear is probably the number one reason people opt for sedation in the dentist’s office, but there are a number of patients who do better with it, including:

  • People who can’t sit still for any length of time
  • Patients with a very low threshold for pain
  • Those with a hyperactive gag reflex
  • People with sensitive teeth
  • Patients who need a large amount of dental work done at one time

Dental sedation can also be useful for children who can’t or won’t sit still at the dentist’s office. Milder forms of sedation, such as nitrous oxide or some oral sedation, are the best choices with younger patients.

The Types of Sedation Dentistry

Dental sedation is fine tuned to the individual. Your dentist will weigh your reasons for needing sedation and the procedure to be done before deciding on a method of sedation for you. There are four basic types of sedation that your dentist will use.

Inhaled Sedation With Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is mixed with oxygen and sent through a mask over your face. You breathe in this mixture and it helps you to relax. Your dentist can control the

amount of gas you take in to regulate the level of sedation you experience. Inhaled sedation wears off very quickly, and it’s generally safe for you to drive yourself home after the procedure.

Oral Sedation With Pills

Oral sedation can range from minimal to moderate, depending on the dose your dentist gives you. Oral sedation is most commonly done using Halcion, which is a chemical relative to Valium. You’ll take a pill about an hour before the procedure starts, and it will make you very sleepy. While it’s likely you’ll be awake and groggy during the procedure, some people relax enough to fall asleep. It’s a light sleep, though, and they can be woken up with a light shoulder shake.

Moderate Sedation With an IV

IV sedation is generally deeper than oral sedation because it goes directly into the bloodstream. It works very quickly, and your dentist can control the level of sedation constantly by adjusting the amount of medication going through your IV drip.

General Anesthesia

Under general anesthesia, you’ll be completely unconscious. You’ll have medication sent to your bloodstream through an IV, which will be constantly monitored. Unlike other dental sedation methods, you won’t be able to be awakened except through chemical intervention or by waiting for the medication to wear off. You’ll probably have to spend significant time recovering from the sedation in the dentist’s office before you’ll be allowed to go home, and you’ll definitely need someone else to do the driving.

Local Pain Medication

No matter what type of sedation you and your dentist choose, you’ll also likely need some type of local anesthetic. These pain medications numb the area where the dentist will be working, allowing you to enjoy the first few hours at home pain-free after your dental procedure. This medication is generally in the form of novocaine or something similar, applied with a syringe directly at the site of the procedure. You’ll have total numbness for some period of time afterward, that time depending on how many shots were needed before your procedure.

Are You a Dental Sedation Candidate?

There’s no shame in needing a little help to get through a scary dental visit. Dental sedation is so common these days that many dentists assume it will be part of the visit, especially with some of the more involved or painful procedures. If some form of sedation is the tool you need to take better care of your smile, then it’s the right thing to do to make sure you keep your oral health in top shape.

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