Dental Anesthesia and Sedation Dentistry

Dental Anesthesia

Many people experience anxiety about visiting the dentist and undergoing dental work. At times, this can keep them from seeking proper dental care. Patients are now offered relief from these fears through a variety of options for anesthesia and treatment of dental discomfort.

Benefits of Dental Anesthesia

Dental anesthesia allows people to gain a sense of comfort about complex or lengthy procedures, and may enable some patients to undergo elective procedures they have previously feared. Several methods help to control pain, lessen discomfort and assist in relaxation. Depending on the type of anesthesia used, discomfort during the dental procedure can be significantly reduced or completely eliminated.

Types of Dental Anesthesia

Dental anesthesia can be administered through several different methods.

Local Anesthesia

Medication is injected into the mouth to numb the area to be treated and block the nerves that transmit pain. This type of anesthesia is commonly used during fillings, treating gum disease or preparing teeth for crowns.


This method is usually administered by inhaling nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. It can also be administered orally in the form of a pill taken prior to the dental procedure. This form of anesthesia is commonly combined with a local anesthetic to help relieve anxieties and reduce pain.

General Anesthesia

This is the strongest form of anesthesia available for dental procedures and involves intravenous medications that produce a temporary loss of consciousness. General anesthesia is usually only used during oral surgery procedures.

Complications from Dental Anesthesia

Dental anesthesia is a common and safe procedure, but before its administration, the dentist should know a patient's complete medical history to avoid any possible complications. Side effects are rare and vary depending on the type of anesthesia that is administered. These possible complications may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Swelling at the injection site
  • Swelling or numbness in the mouth

More serious risks of general anesthesia are extremely rare and are more likely to occur in patients with serious medical conditions, those who are highly allergic or those with a history of alcohol abuse.

It is important for all patients to wait for the effects anesthesia to wear off before leaving a dental appointment. Especially in cases where general anesthesia is administered, patients are advised not to drive themselves home.

The dentist will determine which type of anesthesia is best for each patient based on the type and seriousness of the procedure being performed and on the medical condition and personal preferences of the individual patient.

Sedation Dentistry

Many people experience anxiety about undergoing dental work or visiting the dentist at all, a fear known as dental phobia. It can keep them from seeking dental care, and may compromise their dental health. Dental phobia can be helped by sedation dentistry.

Sedation dentistry involves the use of medication to provide a relaxing and anxiety-free experience for people undergoing dental treatment. Although sometimes referred to as "sleep dentistry," most patients remain awake but feel sleepy. There are several different methods available to achieve varying degrees of sedation. Which method is used depends on the type of procedure and the preference of the patient.

Although sedation produces a relaxed state, it does not have the same effect as anesthesia, which is used for most dental procedures. A patient will still require an injection of local anesthesia to eliminate the pain caused by the procedure. Sedation simply helps relieve the nervousness and anxiety that often accompany a visit to the dentist. A patient is usually sedated prior to getting anesthesia to reduce any anxiety about its injection.

Benefits of Sedation Dentistry

Sedation allows people to feel comfortable about undergoing complex and lengthy procedures. When under sedation, it can seem to patients that lengthy procedures have lasted for only a few minutes. Another benefit of sedation dentistry is that extensive treatment can be performed in only one or two appointments. Sedation dentistry may benefit those who:

  • Have a low pain threshold
  • Have sensitive teeth
  • Cannot sit still in the dentist's chair
  • Gag easily
  • Need a large amount of dental work done

Types of Dental Sedation

Sedation can be administered through several different methods, depending on the overall health and level of relaxation required by the patient. Most patients use nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, to achieve relaxation. A mask is placed over the nose and the patient breathes in the gas. The sedated feelings begin anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes after inhaling. Numbness throughout the cheeks and gums also begins quickly. Other methods of sedation can be delivered orally or intravenously.

Depending on a patient's anxiety level, different degrees of dental sedation may be required. They include:

Conscious Sedation

Most dentists use conscious sedation, which lets patients feel relaxed but also remain awake and able to respond to commands. The patient will not remember most of the procedure with this sedation.

Deep Sedation

Patients with higher anxiety levels may feel more comfortable with deep sedation, which provides a state somewhere between consciousness and unconsciousness. In this state, patients cannot respond to commands and may need breathing assistance.


Putting a patient in an unconscious state is occasionally necessary. However, doing so requires general anesthesia, which brings about added risks. Usually only oral sugery requires this level of sedation.

Risks of Sedation Dentistry

Although the risk of using sedation is low, mild side effects may occur. Some patients may experience:

  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Drowsiness (post-procedure)

Intravenous sedation is not recommended for patients who are claustrophobic, have a blocked nasal passage, are obese, or have obstructive sleep apnea. Because of the potential side effects of sedation, patients may need to be driven home upon completion of the procedure.

It is important to discuss the risks of sedation dentistry with a dentist before undergoing any dental procedure.