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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.
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.
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.
In addition to people with dental anxiety or fear of needles, sedation can help people with:
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.
Your dentist or oral surgeon will determine the best sedation method for you based on:
Here are five types of sedation your dentist may offer:
Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, can reduce feelings of anxiety, pain, and fear. It can even cause euphoria (hence the name).
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.
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.
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.
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.
This form of sedation may cost more than nitrous oxide, ranging from $200 to $500.
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.
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:
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:
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.
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.
If your dentist offers intramuscular sedation, you can expect the cost to be similar to IV sedation (about $500 to $1,000 an hour).
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.
General anesthesia can cost between $500 and over $1000.
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.
Some possible side effects that may occur after (or sometimes during) your procedure include:
These side effects aren’t life-threatening and should subside in the hours following your procedure. Call your dentist if you have any concerns.
Serious complications of anesthesia are rare but can include:
These risks are unlikely, but they can happen. Your dentist or oral surgeon needs to know your medical history to avoid these risks.
Dental anxiety is common and can stem from many sources. Your reasons for dental anxiety may not be the same as someone else’s.
Some possible contributors include childhood fears, traumatic experiences, fear of needles, and discomfort sitting in the dentist’s chair.
Sedation dentistry can help you relax when undergoing a dental procedure. Going to the same dentist and becoming familiar with them over time may also help.
Learning about various dental procedures and the training dentists complete might also help alleviate dental anxiety.
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.
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.
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