Many people have a fear of going to the dentist. While most of us will be able to push that to one side, some cannot get past this fear, and going without dental treatment can obviously have a detrimental effect on oral health.
A study found nearly 50% of patients suffering from a high fear1 of dental treatment had avoided or missed a dental appointment. The problem is that avoiding regular checkups means any early signs of decay and disease are unlikely to be detected until the condition becomes painful.
By this stage the treatment is likely to be much more invasive, adding to the patient’s anxiety. Using sedation dentistry can make the process a lot more pleasant and bearable.
What is Sedation Dentistry?
Sedation dentistry is a very useful technique for inducing a calm and relaxed state. It uses sedative drugs such as anti-anxiety medication, tranquillizers, and nitrous oxide, and can be administered in three different ways.
Intravenous sedation delivers the sedatives directly into the blood vessels of the hand or arm via an injection. The dentist can continually adjust the level of sedation. Intravenous sedation is good for very fearful patients, or for patients needing to undergo a longer procedure.
Inhaled sedation can be very relaxing, and delivers nitrous oxide combined with oxygen through a mask.
Oral sedation can either be minimal or moderate and is taken in the form of a pill usually an hour or so before the procedure.
Whichever type of sedation dentistry you choose to have, you’ll also need to have a local anaesthetic to numb the area being worked on.
What Are the Major Benefits of Sedation Dentistry?
The main benefit of having sedation dentistry is that while patients remain conscious and able to communicate during the treatment, they can have little recollection of the procedure afterwards, depending on the level of sedation given, and it can sometimes feel as if treatment has only taken a few minutes. This is perfect for complicated procedures which can take quite some time to complete. It also means a complex course of treatment can be completed during fewer visits.
It’s a good solution for anyone who has neglected their dental health because of their fears of going to the dentist. Fearful patients having sedation dentistry are more likely to choose to have routine dental care as it will be far more bearable for them. As a consequence their dental health is likely to improve and they will be far less likely to need extensive dental treatment.
How Will I Feel during Sedation Dentistry?
Sedation can be minimal, moderate or deep, depending on the degree of fear, and type of treatment. If you are given minimal sedation then you’ll still be fully awake but completely relaxed. If you receive a moderate level of sedation then you’ll be conscious but won’t remember much of the procedure afterwards. In deep sedation you’ll still be able to be awakened during the procedure, but will feel very drowsy.
If you choose to have sedation dentistry, then you’ll need to have someone drive you to and from your appointment. It is best if that person can stay with you at home for a few hours afterwards just to make sure all is well.
Is Sedation Dentistry Safe?
Sedation dentistry is generally very safe, although there is always a small risk involved when having any sort of an anaesthetic. Most dentists are able to give minimal sedation through nitrous oxide and pills, and an increasing number of dentists are able to administer moderate sedation.
Only dentists who have completed the Commission on Dental Accreditation program2 are able to administer deep sedation or general anaesthetic. These dentists tend to be oral surgeons and are very highly trained.
During sedation dentistry you will be carefully monitored at all times, according to American Dental Association guidelines. After the procedure is complete your dentist will probably want you to remain at the dental office for a short while, just so they can monitor you before sending you a home to recover.
In addition to being good for fearful patients, sedation dentistry is also ideal for anyone with sensitive teeth, or for those who have a very low pain threshold.
1. Chanpong B, Haas DA, Locker D. Need and demand for sedation or general anaesthesia in dentistry: a national survey of the Canadian population. Anesth Prog. 2005 Spring;52: 3-11
2. American Dental Association http://www.ada.org/sections/about/pdfs/statements_anesthesia.pdf