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Sedation dentistry simply means having dental treatment performed while sedated. Some people also refer to this as “sleep dentistry” because most patients do sleep when sedated. However, it should not be confused with the dental treatments aimed at treating sleep disorders (this is also sometimes called “sleep dentistry”).
Sedation dentistry allows the patient to undergo dental procedures while in a state of sleep or reduced awareness. It also produces a mild form of amnesia so that even patients who do not actually sleep don’t remember the time spent in the dental chair.
There are several different types of sedation used in dentistry today. They each require different certifications and licensing. They all have different pros and cons, discussed here.
Commonly known as “laughing gas”, nitrous oxide technically isn’t sedation. It may help some patients relax enough that they do fall asleep, but it does not produce sleep on its own. It is classified as an anxiolytic medication. This means that it reduces anxiety. Most patients stated that the appointment seems to go by more quickly when using nitrous oxide. There is typically a reduced awareness of the sights, sounds, and other sensations of a dental procedure.
The wonderful thing about nitrous oxide is that your body quickly eliminates it from the system once you breathe oxygen for 5 minutes. This means there is no lingering effect and no need for someone else to drive you to your dental appointment.
Oral sedation involves the administration of an oral medication (pill) that is a sedative and typically does cause patients to sleep deeply throughout their procedures. Even those patients who do not sleep and seem to be aware of what is going on have little to no memory of the dental procedure afterward.
Oral sedation requires additional education and certification on the part of the administering dentist because it carries a higher risk of complications than nitrous oxide does. Because it does have a lingering effect and takes time for your body to metabolize, patients who take oral sedation medication must have a responsible adult accompany and drive them to and from the appointment.
Anyone whose fear or anxiety over dental treatment prevents them from seeking vital oral healthcare should consider the option of sedation dentistry. It is also a good option for patients who require a large amount of dental treatment and prefer to complete it in one long visit. Patients with mental or physical challenges that make it difficult to calmly sit in the dental chair could also benefit from sedation.
Please be aware that not all patients are good candidates for sedation dentistry. Medical conditions, medications, and other factors play an important role in a patient's ability to be a good candidate for different types of sedation.
Because sedation involves prescription medications that affect your body as a whole, especially your breathing, it is absolutely essential that you discuss your complete medical history with your dentist. You may be taking medications that could interact with the sedative. You could have a lung problem that would prevent nitrous oxide from taking effect. People who have developed a tolerance for opioid narcotics or valium-type drugs may experience a different effect of sedation medication.
In order for your dentist to ensure your safety and comfort during sedation dentistry, you must fully disclose any medical conditions, including prescription, over-the-counter, and illicit substances you use.
Should you have any questions or concerns regarding your oral health, we are more than happy to sit down with you and discuss how you can achieve a beautiful, healthy smile.