Sedation Dentistry Basics and Common Uses

August 10, 2021

Certain dental procedures are known to be somewhat or even quite painful, and in these cases, there are several forms of medication that may be used to help prevent this pain. Broadly speaking, all these approaches fall under a single umbrella, one known in the dental world as sedation dentistry. 

At Hillfield Pediatric & Family Dentistry, we're happy to explain the use of sedation dentistry for some of our dental procedures, including oral surgeries like wisdom teeth removal and potentially several others. What is sedation dentistry, what are the various types often offered to patients, and who are often considered good candidates for the use of sedation dentistry? Here's a basic primer.

Sedation Dentistry Basics and Types

As we touched on above, sedation dentistry refers to any number of different chemicals or approaches to help a patient remain calm and relatively at ease during a dental procedure. There are certain notably painful procedures where some form of sedation will almost always be utilized; in other cases, use of sedation may be based on the patient's medical history and needs.

Generally, there are three types of dental sedation that might be used:

  • Inhalation sedation ("laughing gas"): Inhalation sedation is the process of introducing a gas or vapor into a patient's mouth, nose, or lungs. The use of this chemical includes nitrous oxide (or "laughing gas"), which often works in association with other chemicals like oxygen to provide relief during certain procedures; it also includes oral conscious sedation.
  • Oral conscious sedation: Another approach for some patients is oral conscious sedation, which involves the use of a sedative or calming drug taken orally (typically as a pill or tablet) in order to help the patient relax and remain calm. This medication works on its own without the introduction of chemicals into any other area, such as through inhalation.
  • Intravenous sedation: Known as IV sedation for short, this approach involves having a dentist administer sedative medications (typically by an intravenous injection) in order to help the patient remain calm, relaxed, and at ease during certain procedures. This is generally considered the most powerful of these options; however, it also tends to be the riskiest since there's potential for interactions with other medicines or conditions.

Our next several sections will go over the common reasons why you or someone else in your family (including children) might be a good candidate for sedation dentistry depending on your needs, pain tolerance levels and other factors.

Certain Specific Procedures

First and foremost, as we already touched on, certain intense oral surgery or other dental procedures are known to be quite painful -- sedation dentistry will virtually always be offered as an option in these cases. In most cases, this is likely to include wisdom teeth removal procedures and other types of oral surgery. While some may choose to decline sedation based on religious beliefs or other reasons, such individuals are accepting the risks of major pain that are involved in these procedures.

However, when it comes to more minor procedures, whether or not sedation is used will depend on a number of factors, including the patient's dental history and unique needs. Our next several sections will look at examples.

Dental Anxiety or Phobias

Some people suffer from anxiety or phobias about visiting the dentist, even if they're relatively minor. Dental anxiety can stem from numerous sources; for some people, it may simply be due to past experiences at other dental offices (or with another dentist) that were particularly painful or uncomfortable. For others, this fear stems from a serious inherited condition like Marcum's anxiety (a hereditary fear of dental phobia).

In these cases, sedation dentistry can help take the edge off and make it more likely for this person to get the care they need.

Strong Gag Reflex

In other cases, sedation will be applied based on the patient having a strong gag reflex (which can make certain procedures like dental X-rays difficult or uncomfortable for that person). Rather than potentially interrupting the procedure several times as the gag reflex triggers, your dentist might instead suggest sedation as a way to help you remain comfortable and relaxed throughout the procedure. Basic forms of sedation will typically stop your gag reflex entirely.

Local Anesthesia is Ineffective

For limited procedures like filling cavities, local anesthesia is often used. This is a very limited form of sedation, one that takes effect quickly and only lasts for a few hours in most cases.

However, not all patients receive identical results from local anesthesia, and some will find it simply isn't powerful enough to do the job. This is more common in people with higher levels of pain tolerance -- they might require sedation for procedures that are mild or moderate in nature.

Children and Sedation

As you may have guessed, the use of sedation dentistry can be especially effective for children, who often have major difficulty staying still during oral surgery or other procedures. And, because children are often afraid of the dentist, sedation can be used to help them get over this fear and focus more on positive experiences rather than negative ones.

Many kids who were once too scared to go back to the dentist afterwards become more willing to do so following a positive experience with sedation dentistry. In these cases, it's vital that your child's dental professionals understand how and when to administer sedation safely, so be sure to discuss the specifics with your dentist in advance.

For more on sedation dentistry and why it's often done, or to learn about any of our family dentist services, speak to the staff at Hillfield Pediatric & Family Dentistry today.

Hillfield Pediatric & Family Dentistry knows the importance of having healthy and beautiful teeth, which is why we provide exceptional dental care that you can rely on
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