Updated on April 25, 2024
8 min read

Sedation Dentistry: Eliminating Dental Anxiety

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Key Takeaways

  • Sedation dentistry uses medication to help you relax before or during dental procedures.
  • Many people experience dental anxiety, and sedation dentistry can offer relief.
  • Dentists and oral surgeons provide several types of conscious sedation, which allow you to feel calm and relaxed while remaining awake. These include inhalation (laughing gas), oral medication, and IV sedation.
  • If you tend to be anxious before or during dental visits, talk to your dentist about the sedation options they offer. They can explain the benefits, risks, and how to prepare.

What is Sedation Dentistry?

Sedation dentistry uses medication to reduce anxiety during dental procedures. You may be sedated before any procedure, from a deep cleaning to oral surgery.

Many people have dental anxiety. If you get anxious or tense during dental procedures, conscious sedation can help you relax. It can make things easier for both you and your dentist.

Woman receiving dental local anesthesia or sedation in dentist office

With sedation, you’re usually still awake but relaxed. Several sedation methods are available, including nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral medication, and injections. General anesthesia, which makes you unconscious, is also used sometimes, but this isn’t as common in dentistry.

Sedation dentistry is generally safe, but it does come with some risks. Talk to your dentist if you’re interested in sedation to help you remain calm during your next visit.

Who is Sedation Dentistry For?

Sedation dentistry is largely intended for people with dental anxiety and/or a fear of needles. It’s estimated that at least one-fifth of adults experience dental anxiety, and the true number may be even higher.1, 2

When undergoing dental work, you need to be calm and relaxed. Anxiety and tension during a dental visit not only give you a hard time, they can also make your dentist’s job more difficult.

With the various types of sedation available today, you have multiple options to reduce anxiety and make your entire dental visit less distressing. You’ll be able to get the dental care you need in a stress-free manner. 

Note that sedation for dental work is not a replacement for local anesthesia. You’ll still be given local injections to numb your nerves during the procedure.

Benefits of Sedation Dentistry

In addition to people with dental anxiety or fear of needles, sedation can help people with:

  • Low pain thresholds
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Difficulty sitting still
  • Sensitive gag reflexes 
  • Special needs 

Sedation can also be helpful when the dental work you need will take a long time. Rather than struggling to sit still for an hour or more, you’ll be relaxed and may feel like the procedure takes less time.

Do All Dentists Provide Sedation?

Not all dentists are licensed to provide sedation, but most can at least provide nitrous oxide. Many dentists and oral surgeons have dental anesthesiologists as part of their staff.

You can call your dentist to ask what forms of sedation they provide or do an online search for sedation dentistry in your area.

5 Types of Sedation in Dentistry

Your dentist or oral surgeon will determine the best sedation method for you based on:

  • How invasive or long the procedure is 
  • Your preferences 
  • Your medical history

Here are five types of sedation your dentist may offer:

1. Laughing Gas

Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, can reduce feelings of anxiety, pain, and fear. It can even cause euphoria (hence the name).

Dentist administering a gask mask or laughing gas on a young girl patient

Your dentist or anesthesiologist will give you a nose mask, and you’ll inhale a mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen. The exact amount of gas can be easily adjusted to make you as comfortable as possible.

Laughing gas is a form of conscious sedation, which means it does not put you to sleep. The effects of nitrous oxide are almost instantaneous after the mask is placed (about 30 seconds), and they wear off just as quickly.

Your body doesn’t process nitrous oxide, and it generally doesn’t build up in the body. Once the mask is removed, the effects will stop after only about one minute. This is the only form of sedation that will allow you to drive yourself home afterward.

Cost

Laughing gas is generally the least expensive form of medical sedation, costing between $80 and $150 per hour. You may pay significantly less than this if your procedure takes well under an hour.

2. Oral Sedation

Oral sedation is also referred to as “premedication.” You’ll be given this type of sedative before (rather than during) a surgical or invasive dental procedure.

Young woman being injected IV sedation during dental procedure

The sedative used is generally an anti-anxiety medication in the benzodiazepine family (similar to Valium). Your dentist may give you a pill one or two hours before the procedure, or you may be instructed to take medication the night before.

Oral medications provide mild to moderate sedation. They generally have a more potent effect than laughing gas.

Cost

This form of sedation may cost more than nitrous oxide, ranging from $200 to $500.

3. Intravenous (IV) Sedation

IV sedation, also called deep sedation, is the strongest form of sedation, except for general anesthesia. It makes patients very sleepy and almost completely unaware of their surroundings.

Under deep sedation, most people do not remember anything during the procedure. However, they are not entirely unconscious. This form of sedation is often used for oral surgery, such as wisdom tooth removal.

Like oral sedation, the drug used is usually a benzodiazepine. The effects can take several hours to wear off fully.

Before IV Sedation

Preparing for IV sedation is essential to help put you at ease before the surgery and prevent complications. Your dentist will provide you with thorough instructions. These may include the following:

  • Avoid eating or drinking anything for 6 to 12 hours before your appointment
  • Wear comfortable clothes and refrain from taking any medications (unless approved)
  • You won’t be able to drive after you wake up, so be sure to have a ride set up beforehand

During and After IV Sedation

Once the sedative is administered, you won’t feel anything during the procedure. You also won’t remember the procedure when you wake up.

However, your dentist will monitor your vitals during the procedure. They can also adjust the level of sedation based on your needs.

After the procedure, you will feel drowsy for a few hours. This is why it’s essential to have someone drive you home afterward. You will also be tired and sore, so do the following to ensure proper recovery:

  • Call out of work and rest for the next 1 to 3 days
  • Avoid intense exercise for a few days
  • Avoid alcohol, coffee, and unapproved medications for at least 24 hours
  • Don’t drive for at least 24 hours

Cost

IV sedation can cost between $500 and $1000 an hour. As with minimal sedation, you’ll pay less if your procedure is shorter than one hour. And if it goes over an hour, you’ll often simply be charged a smaller fee for the additional time.

4. Intramuscular Sedation

Intramuscular sedation is similar to IV sedation, but the medication is injected into a muscle rather than a blood vessel. The muscle is generally in the upper arm or thigh. This form of sedation isn’t as common in dentistry.

Cost

If your dentist offers intramuscular sedation, you can expect the cost to be similar to IV sedation (about $500 to $1,000 an hour).

5. General Anesthesia

General anesthesia may be given via IV or inhalation, and it causes a complete loss of consciousness. It essentially paralyzes the body, requiring a breathing tube to be inserted.

This type of sedation is most often used in hospitals. However, it may be offered by an oral surgeon.

Cost

General anesthesia can cost between $500 and over $1000.

Is Sedation Dentistry Covered by Dental Insurance?

Sadly, insurance providers typically won’t cover sedation dentistry to relieve anxiety.

However, sedation may be covered if it’s considered necessary for the procedure. For example, sedation is likely to be covered for oral surgery.

Risks and Complications of Sedation Dentistry

Sedation dentistry is generally safe. Dentists must be trained to use the various sedation methods or have licensed anesthesiologists to administer the medication.

Inquire about your dentist’s or anesthesiologist’s experience, and expect to be given a form detailing the potential risks and side effects.

Before administration, your dentist should know your medical history and any allergies you have. If you are allergic to certain medications or have a condition like sleep apnea, you might not be a good candidate for certain kinds of sedation.

Typical Side Effects

Some possible side effects that may occur after (or sometimes during) your procedure include:

  • Drowsiness or sleepiness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Poor short-term memory

These side effects aren’t life-threatening and should subside in the hours following your procedure. Call your dentist if you have any concerns.

Potential Complications

Serious complications of anesthesia are rare but can include:

  • Long-term memory and learning issues (more likely older people or people with heart disease or neurological conditions)
  • Malignant hyperthermia (an allergic reaction to anesthesia that is similar to a heat stroke)
  • Trouble breathing and difficulty regaining consciousness

These risks are unlikely, but they can happen. Your dentist or oral surgeon needs to know your medical history to avoid these risks.

Last updated on April 25, 2024
9 Sources Cited
Last updated on April 25, 2024
All NewMouth content is medically reviewed and fact-checked by a licensed dentist or orthodontist to ensure the information is factual, current, and relevant.

We have strict sourcing guidelines and only cite from current scientific research, such as scholarly articles, dentistry textbooks, government agencies, and medical journals. This also includes information provided by the American Dental Association (ADA), the American Association of Orthodontics (AAO), and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
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  2. Beaton, Laura et al. “Why are people afraid of the dentist? Observations and explanations.” Medical Principles and Practice, 2014.
  3. Kapur, Arpita, and Vinay Kapur. “Conscious Sedation in Dentistry.” Annals of Maxillofacial Surgery, 2018.
  4. Girdler, N. M., et al. Conscious Sedation for Dentistry. Wiley, 2018.
  5. Harbuz, Diana Krystyna, and Michael O’Halloran. “Techniques to Administer Oral, Inhalational, and IV Sedation in Dentistry.” The Australasian Medical Journal, 2016.
  6. Ashley, P. “Best clinical practice guidance for conscious sedation of children undergoing dental treatment: an EAPD policy document.” European Archives of Paediatric Dentistry, 2021.
  7. Stamp, A. J., et al. “Can Intravenous Conscious Sedation with Midazolam Be Effective at Facilitating Surgical Dentistry in Adolescent Orthodontic Patients? A Service Evaluation.” British Dental Journal, 2017.
  8. Working Group on Guidelines Development for Intravenous Sedation in Dentistry, the Japanese Dental Society of Anesthesiology. “Practice Guidelines for Intravenous Conscious Sedation in Dentistry (Second Edition, 2017).” Anesthesia Progress, 2018.
  9. Yoon, Ji-Young, and Eun-Jung Kim. “Current Trends in Intravenous Sedative Drugs for Dental Procedures.” Journal of Dental Anesthesia and Pain Medicine, 2016.
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