A trip to the dentist is a necessary part of good oral hygiene. These visits also keep your teeth in great shape and help spot early signs of gum disease, tooth decay, and other mouth disorders. While few people would ever describe a trip to the dentist as “fun,” for some people, these visits can trigger an extreme emotional response causing them to delay treatment or avoid it altogether. Sedation dentistry is the solution for those with any anxieties, phobias, or general uneasiness about the dentist.
Cases of dental anxiety are much more common than many people realize, affecting approximately 15% to 25% of the world’s population. Fortunately, most of these people find the condition disturbing but not wholly disabling, allowing them to access needed dental care.
Patients suffering from dental anxiety often experience heart palpitations, lowered blood pressure readings, and sweating. More severe reactions include panic attacks and fainting during dental visits.
Dental phobia or odontophobia is a fear of dentists and is a severe form of dental anxiety. Some patients develop dental phobia due to fear of pain or fear of needles, while others have a fear of anesthesia.
For other patients, their fear results from the proximity of the dental care professional to their personal space, not necessarily to the dental procedure. The phobia may extend to all doctors for people with these fears, but this isn’t always the case.
Sedation dentistry can be helpful in cases of dental phobia by substantially reducing the anxiety level and allowing the patient to complete necessary dental treatment in a stress-free environment. Sedation dentistry is administered in several different forms depending on the patient's needs and the purpose of the visit.
Oral Conscious Sedation
Oral conscious sedation uses medication to depress consciousness while the patient is awake and able to respond verbally. Employing this level of sedation usually requires no respiratory or cardiovascular interventions. But well-trained staff are available in the event of unexpected complications.
Some advantages of oral conscious sedation include relief of anxiety for nervous patients. In many cases, this allows the dentist to focus on the procedure entirely and usually complete it faster than working with an anxious patient.
Dentists using oral conscious sedation for a procedure will provide a prescription for the patient to fill at their pharmacy before the next dental appointment and detailed instructions for taking the medication. Oral conscious sedation can leave the patient feeling groggy and temporarily affect motor skills. For these reasons, the patient should arrange to have someone else drive them home after the procedure.
Laughing gas or nitrous oxide is a mild sedative used by dentists to relax patients and effectively manage pain. Nitrous oxide is an odorless gas inhaled through a mask placed over the nose during dental procedures. Although the common name for this substance is “laughing gas,” laughter is not a typical response to the drug.
Laughing gas slows down the central nervous system making the patient feel more relaxed and calm. The compound is considered safe and effective with few side effects, including headaches, nausea, and sleepiness. The likelihood of these adverse reactions increases when the patient inhales the gas too quickly.
With a history dating back more than 200 years, laughing gas is one of the oldest anesthetics around, and as the subject of nearly two centuries worth of research, nitrous oxide is one of the world's most studied compounds.
IV sedation is the next step up from laughing gas. Dentists and other dental care professionals typically use IV sedation for more complex mouth reconstructions and procedures or patients suffering from dental phobia and extreme dental anxiety. The patient will have no memory of the process, and trained medical professionals will closely monitor the patient to ensure safety.
IV sedation medication is delivered through a vein and is the most profound form of sedation available in a dental office setting. The drug quickly places the patient in a semi-awake state with the ability to respond to verbal commands. Once the procedure is complete, it is not unusual for most patients to remember little to nothing about the process.
The patient's heart rate, oxygen rate, and other vital signs are constantly monitored under IV sedation and adjusted to keep the patient comfortable. Sleeping through the procedure sometimes occurs with this sedation, and the patient will have little to no memory of the treatment after waking.
General anesthesia differs from the other options listed in a few ways. For one, the other options listed allow the patient to remain somewhat conscious during the procedure and able to respond to requests. However, under general anesthesia, the patient is completely unconscious.
This type of sedation requires a specially trained anesthesiologist and equipment not typically found in most dental offices as a safety precaution to protect the patient. Equipment of this nature is found in hospitals or surgical care centers.
Dentists prefer conscious sedation methods over general anesthesia due to the potential for adverse long-term side effects, including nausea and vomiting, along with prolonged confusion and fuzzy thinking that may take as long as 24 hours to clear the patient's system completely.
General anesthesia can allow the patient to experience unintended intraoperative awareness. This rare condition occurs in roughly 0.002% of patients and involves a conscious and explicit memory of surgical events. While most people experiencing this condition do not report feeling any pain, if the patient was experiencing dental phobia, this experience could have devastating psychological ramifications.
Sedation dentistry is sometimes called sleep dentistry, but the field of sleep dentistry involves patients suffering from sleep apnea and other related conditions treated with a customized oral appliance worn while sleeping.
Regular dental visits are crucial to maintaining your beautiful smile. If you or someone in your life suffers from dental anxiety or dental phobia, help is available. Contact our specially-trained dental professionals and ask about our options for helping ease any tension or anxiety with your next dental visit.