Sedation dentistry is the use of pharmacological agents to calm and relax a dental patient prior to and during a dental appointment.
Does the thought of having your teeth cleaned make your entire body tense with fear? Would you rather endure the agony of a toothache than step foot in a dentist's office? You're not alone. A lot of people are so phobic about going to the dentist that they prefer not to have any treatment.
For people who avoid dentists like the plague, sedation dentistry may take away some of their anxiety. Sedation can be used for everything from invasive procedures to a simple tooth cleaning. How it's used depends on the severity of the fear.
Sedation is a process used to establish a relaxed, easy and calm state through the use of sedatives. Sedative drugs can be administered in a variety of ways. In the past, intravenous (IV) sedation – sedatives delivered via injection of the hand or arm – was predominantly used to sedate a dental patient.
Today, however, sedation dentistry has evolved to be even more conducive to a relaxing experience. Patients have alternatives to the traditional methods of inhalation (nitrous oxide or “laughing gas”) and IVs, such as those offering a "no needle” approach that many people find more appealing.
Oral sedation dentistry is now the most common technique used in the United States to quell patient fears. The technique is easy and requires no needles. Best of all, the medications create such a comfortable experience that most patients do not remember the visit; it is as if they slept through the treatment. In reality, oral sedation dentistry maintains a level of consciousness in the patient for safety and cooperation. Note that sedation is different from anesthetic injections. Although some forms of sedation (such as nitrous oxide gas) may raise your threshold for pain, most dental treatments still require a local anesthetic injected in the mouth, even when sedation dentistry techniques are performed.
This local anesthetic will temporarily block pain impulses from the affected teeth and gum tissue. However, this injection will occur after you are already sedated and comfortable, so most likely you won't be bothered by or remember the sensation of having the injection.
Regardless of the type of sedation dentistry you receive, it is important to have a responsible caregiver accompany you to the procedure (and drive you there if you must take oral medication before arriving for your appointment). The caregiver should drive you home after the procedure is complete and stay with you and monitor you for up to 24 hours at home.