Sedation Dentistry

Many people experience anxiety about undergoing dental work or visiting the dentist at all, a fear known as dental phobia. It can keep them from seeking dental care, and may compromise their dental health. Dental phobia can be helped by sedation dentistry.

Sedation dentistry involves the use of medication to provide a relaxing and anxiety-free experience for people undergoing dental treatment. Although sometimes referred to as "sleep dentistry," most patients remain awake but feel sleepy. There are several different methods available to achieve varying degrees of sedation. Which method is used depends on the type of procedure and the preference of the patient.

Although sedation produces a relaxed state, it does not have the same effect as anesthesia, which is used for most dental procedures. A patient will still require an injection of local anesthesia to eliminate the pain caused by the procedure. Sedation simply helps relieve the nervousness and anxiety that often accompany a visit to the dentist. A patient is usually sedated prior to getting anesthesia to reduce any anxiety about its injection.

Benefits of Sedation Dentistry

Sedation allows people to feel comfortable about undergoing complex and lengthy procedures. When under sedation, it can seem to patients that lengthy procedures have lasted for only a few minutes. Sedation dentistry may benefit those who:

  • Have a low pain threshold
  • Have sensitive teeth
  • Cannot sit still in the dentist's chair
  • Gag easily
  • Need a large amount of dental work done

Another benefit of sedation dentistry is that extensive treatment can be performed in only one or two appointments.

Types of Dental Sedation

Sedation can be administered through several different methods, depending on the overall health and level of relaxation required by the patient. Most patients use nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, to achieve relaxation. A mask is placed over the nose and the patient breathes in the gas. The sedated feelings begin anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes after inhaling. Numbness throughout the cheeks and gums also begins quickly. Other methods of sedation can be delivered orally or intravenously.

Conscious Sedation

Most dentists use conscious sedation, which lets patients feel relaxed but also remain awake and able to respond to commands. The patient will not remember most of the procedure with this sedation.

Deep Sedation

Patients with higher anxiety levels may feel more comfortable with deep sedation, which provides a state somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness. In this state, patients cannot respond to commands and may need breathing assistance.


Putting a patient in an unconscious state is occasionally necessary. However, doing so requires general anesthesia, which brings about added risks. Usually only oral surgery requires this level of sedation.

Risks of Sedation Dentistry

Although the risk of using sedation is low, mild side effects may occur. Some patients may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness (post-procedure)

Intravenous sedation is not recommended for patients who are claustrophobic, have a blocked nasal passage, are obese, or have obstructive sleep apnea. Because of the potential side effects of sedation, patients may need to be driven home upon completion of the procedure.

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