Going to the dentist’s office is a common fear for many people. Any kind of cleaning or surgical procedure can make us nervous or uncomfortable. For many, it is simply the fear of the unknown, or it could also be from memory of previous bad experiences in which there was pain or immense discomfort. We typically want to avoid pain and discomfort, so we avoid going to get our procedures done.
Modern advances in anesthesia have made dental procedures much more tolerable. In fact, when dentists use the proper sedation methods, we shouldn’t feel much at all. There are plenty of options dentists can use to numb or eliminate the feeling of pain while work is being performed. Visits to the dentist’s office no longer have to be painful or terrifying.
What is sedation dentistry?
Sedation dentistry is the use of sedatives on patients while dental procedures are being performed. Although sedatives are not required for many procedures, patients may choose to use them to help calm and relax. It is more of a mental aid for patients than it is for actually numbing pain. For most procedures, the local anesthetic used by dentists is sufficient to eliminate pain in the areas of the mouth that are undergoing the procedure. Still, patients might worry whether they will experience pain or discomfort. In these cases, where patients are anxious and fearful, dentists may recommend sedation to help calm them down and put their minds at ease.
How does it work?
Depending on which level of sedation is chosen, sedatives can be administered in different forms. Once taken, the dentist will wait to perform the procedures until they can see the patient reacting to the sedative. This will look different depending on which type of sedative is being used. It may make the patient feel drowsier, less coherent, more relaxed, and more prone to giggling at whatever the dentist says. No matter what form is used, the idea is simply to take the patient’s mind off of their fear and allow them to relax and finish the procedure. It does not numb the pain, but it relaxes the patient.
What are the different levels of sedation dentistry?
There are four different levels of sedation that patients can choose from when undergoing a dental procedure. The first of these is minimal sedation, which includes administering nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas, through inhalation. It could also involve taking a pill the night before or the morning of a procedure. This level is light and will still allow someone to drive home and recover in a short amount of time. It helps take the edge off of a patient’s fears by relaxing the body and mind.
Moderate sedation, can also be administered orally, through inhalation, or through intravenous methods. The effect is a little stronger and appropriate for patients with high anxiety. They will still be conscious and able to respond to verbal cues, but may not remember much of the procedure once the sedation wears off.
Deep sedation and general anesthesia would not be as common to use for simple procedures, but would allow someone to be nearly or completely unconscious during surgery. Deep sedation would typically be administered intravenously, while general anesthesia would only be used in extreme cases for invasive procedures. Either of these are useful for patients with extreme fear or anxiety or for prolonged surgeries in which someone would rather not be aware of what is happening. The deeper the sedation, the more risks involved. Your dentist will be able to help you decide which level is right for you and your situation.
How can it help with my fear of the dentist?
Sedatives have only one purpose. That is to help you relax. They are not necessary for numbing pain. They only serve to take your mind off the procedure and help you drift into a less conscious or aware state. By using a sedative, you will be much more relaxed and less anxious when you sit in the dentist chair. Instead of feeling fear and uncertainty about what is to come, you will feel drowsy, content, relaxed and perhaps a little sleepy.
Whether you choose laughing gas, an oral sedative or a stronger IV dose, the fear of what is to come will drift away as you experience relaxation. Using a sedative each time you visit the dentist’s office may help you grow accustomed to relaxing rather than fearing another bad experience. It will at least help you overcome anxiety long enough to get the work done.