Sedation Dentistry: Can I Really Relax In The Dental Chair?


Sedation Dentistry

If you’ve ever been afraid of going to the dentist, you are not alone. According to the Washington Post, 10% of Americans suffer from dental phobia and anywhere from 40% to 75% experience dental fear and anxiety when they have a dental appointment.

This fear is understandable. Someone will be putting their fingers in your mouth, the instruments look intimidating and make some noises. Even a simple teeth-cleaning can cause a patient anxiety, not to mention more complex procedures like dental implants, dental crowns, and root canals.

Fortunately, even if you suffer from dental phobia or intense fear and anxiety related to going to the dentist, there is a solution. Instead of abandoning the dentist, ask about sedation dentistry. In the same way patients are given anesthesia before they undergo surgery, dentists and prosthodontists can administer medications that will relax patients or put them under completely.

Types of Sedation Dentistry

Today, sedation dentistry offers several tiers of sedation and anesthesia to make you feel more comfortable in the chair.

1. Minimal Sedation --- or Oral Sedation

Minimal sedation, or more commonly referred to as oral sedation, is the most popular and common form of sedation dentistry.

The value of oral sedation rests in the fact that there aren’t any needles involved and the patient remains conscious, yet pain-free, throughout the procedure.

Note the benefits of oral sedation:

  • A more tranquil environment
  • A pain-free and peaceful experience
  • Less stress and greater comfort
  • Almost no memory of the procedure
  • Least expensive form of sedation

Oral sedation is often administered via nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. Laughing gas will help you feel relaxed, but it won’t put you to sleep. Following your dental procedure, you should be able to drive yourself home after the gas wears off.

2. Moderate Sedation (Conscious Sedation) --- or Intravenous Sedation, IV Sedation

Moderate sedation, or conscious sedation, is typically administered orally with a prescription medication. Common moderate sedation medications include midazolam, propofol, ketamine, and dexmedetomidine.

IV sedation is designed to completely relax you and provide a comfortable experience. IV sedation eliminates your anxiety and any pain. Although you will be comfortably reclined in the dental chair with your eyes closed, you will not be asleep during your surgery. You will still be able to respond to verbal cues from your prosthodontist.

Because you are entirely relaxed, your prosthodontist can accomplish more high-quality dentistry in less time. IV sedation can benefit you if you have a sensitive gag reflex or have difficulty sitting in a dental chair for extended periods. You’ll be so relaxed that you’ll be unaware of the sights, smells, and sounds from your surroundings.

This type of sedation is generally not available at a general dentist, and it is reserved for advanced treatment centers like ArtLab Dentistry, which offers specialized dental equipment and a higher degree of oversight. Patients who have previously experienced IV sedation often report feeling like they slept through the entire procedure. It is administered via direct injection into the bloodstream, which means the effects are immediate. Often patients feel sleepy or groggy when the IV sedatives are withdrawn.

With these medications, you are still conscious, but you have a hard time speaking or thinking clearly. You probably won’t remember the procedure in detail. This amnesia is helpful for future dental appointments.

You can also receive moderate sedatives through an IV. This allows the medication to take effect more quickly, but if you have a fear of needles, oral medication is the way to go.

3. Deep Sedation

Deep sedation does not put you completely under, but you will be more or less asleep during your procedure. With deep sedatives, your prosthodontist will be able to wake you up after the dental procedure, but you will have little to no memory of your appointment.

"Today, sedation dentistry offers several tiers of sedation and anesthesia to make you feel more comfortable in the chair."


4. General Anesthesia

With general anesthesia, this type of anesthesia is the most expensive and is administered by an anesthesiologist or oral surgeon. General anesthesia is ideal for patients with medical conditions such as heart disease or lung disease and for those with serious dental phobias or major dental procedures.

With general anesthesia, you are completely under or asleep during your dental procedure.

If you require general anesthesia, your medical insurance will more than likely reduce or cover the expense.

Who Should Opt for Sedation Dentistry?

In addition to dental fear and anxiety, you might want to consider sedation dentistry if:

  • You have a bad gag reflex.
  • You have a low pain tolerance.
  • You have sensitive teeth.
  • You are undergoing a serious dental procedure.
  • You have a disease such as Parkinson’s disease that causes you to lose control of your movements.

Is Sedation Dentistry Safe for Children?

Many children fear the dentist and understandably so. It’s a new experience for them and they don’t have the reasoning that adults do who know the appointment is temporary and necessary for their oral health.

But many parents also fear that sedating their child could be unsafe. Sedation dentistry is actually completely safe for children. Laughing gas, oral medications, and sedation administered through an IV are all safe for children. If your child is afraid of needles, laughing gas may be used to help calm your child before she gets an IV.

The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends parents adequately prepare their child for the appointment by explaining to them what will happen and ensuring you follow the dentist’s protocol before your child’s procedure. This will typically include not eating or drinking for a certain amount of time before your child receives the sedative.

If you have a fear of the dentist, don’t feel embarrassed. Many of us do. Talk to your dentist or prosthodontist about sedation dentistry. You don’t have to experience crippling anxiety every time you have a dental appointment. Your prosthodontist will explain your sedation options and help choose which medication and level of sedation are best for you.

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Dr. Mamaly Reshad

DDS, MSc (distinction), FOIC


Professor and Former Chairman of Fixed and
Operative Dentistry at USC

Dr. Arman Torbati



Diplomate, American Board of Prosthodontics
Former Associate clinical Professor USC

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