Quick Summary of Sedation Dentistry (All Your Questions Answered):

  1. The 3 Types of Sedation Dentistry
  2. Is General Anesthesia Part Of Sedation Dentistry?
  3. How Does Dental Sedation Work?
  4. Who Should Get Sedation Dentistry?
  5. Which Dental Sedation Method Should You Choose?
  6. What Drugs Are Used During Sedation Dentistry?
  7. How Much Does It Cost To Be Sedated At The Dentist?
  8. Guess What? The Fear of Dentists Is A Real Thing

Does the thought of going to the dentist make you anxious? Some people feel discomfort, vulnerable, and even fearful when presented with the possibility of going to the dentist. These people are probably the first to express their thanks to dental sedatives. Sedation dentistry refers to the process of drugs being administered to dental patients before (or during) a procedure. This is done so the patient doesn’t feel the pain associated with a particular dental procedure. It’s also done to calm the nerves of potentially anxious dental patients.

1. The 3 Types of Sedation Dentistry

Most patients have no desire to be subjected to the pain that may be associated with certain dental procedures. Because of this, most people opt-in to a form of sedation before undergoing a dental procedure. There are three kinds of sedation dentistry methods that are the most common. They are nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral sedatives (pills), and intravenous sedatives (IV).

Nitrous Oxide

Otherwise known as laughing gas. This sedation method is well-known and has been frequently portrayed in film and tv to comedic effect. Though the after-effects can sometimes be humorous, nitrous oxide is an extremely effective sedative. Contrary to what you may have heard, nitrous oxide does not render the patient unconscious. It relaxes them.

One benefit of this sedation method is that it doesn’t last long. In fact, in many situations, patients are allowed to drive home afterward.

Oral Sedatives

This type of dental sedative is in pill form. The patient swallows the recommended dosage about an hour before a dental procedure. The pills put the patient in a relaxed state. Diazepam is the name of a common oral sedative used by dentists. Though the patient is awake after taking oral sedatives, you feel nothing (or close to nothing) during the procedure. Like most sedatives, it reduces anxiety as well.

One side effect of oral sedation dentistry is sleepiness. Patients can but don’t usually drive themselves home after a procedure involving these pills.

Intravenous Sedatives

Called IVs for short, this is the most customizable form of dental sedative. The dentist can administer an amount that he feels is necessary according to regulation. The patient can achieve different stages of consciousness depending on how much is given. Sedatives administered via IVs can sometimes have an amnesic effect, meaning you don’t remember much. If anything at all. Drowsiness is also a side effect. Patients are almost never allowed to drive themselves home after having been given intravenous sedatives.

Whatever form your dentist suggests, make sure to bring up any allergies you have. Also, if you’ve had allergic reactions to anesthesia before, definitely bring that up first. Don’t go forward with dental sedation before communication these things with your dentist. Safety first. And remember that there’s a possibility that all you need is local anesthetic. That refers to the shots dentists put into your gums. For many procedures, this is all that’s necessary.

2. Is General Anesthesia Part Of Sedation Dentistry?

General anesthesia (which you’ve probably heard of) is within the scope of sedation dentistry. It’s the same thing as intravenous sedation. It has one major difference when compared to other forms of dental sedation. The difference between general anesthesia and other methods is that it makes the patient unconscious. All other methods simply relax the patient into a state of unfeeling. General anesthesia also has more risks and side effects in comparison.

3. How Does Dental Sedation Work?

It depends on which kind you’re taking. For example, oral sedatives require a prescription written for you by the dentist. This is because you take oral sedatives before coming in for your procedure. By the time you get to the dental office, you’ll already begun to feel the effects (drowsy and care-free) of the sedative. 

When it comes to nitrous oxide, no preparation is necessary. Right before the procedure, the dentist will give it to you. This is done by placing a mask over your mouth or nose. The dentist will then release the gas through the mask at which point you breathe it in. The effects are almost immediate. Depending on the type of procedure, he may give you more doses during and after as well.

IV sedation, on the other hand, requires some prep. Fasting (no food or drink) for a certain number of hours before the procedure is standard. It’s also common for the dentist to ask you not to consume any personal meds the day of your procedure. The reason is that there can’t be anything in your stomach that could interfere with the sedation.

4. Who Should Get Sedation Dentistry?

There are lots of reasons people undergo dental sedation. Some people have dentist-related phobias. Perhaps in the past, they had a negative dentist experience. Maybe their oral nerves are abnormally sensitive. Some people have small mouths (small-mouthed people tend to experience more soreness after dental work). Some bodies resist local anesthetic so other sedation methods are necessary. If you have an anxiety disorder, chances are you’ll choose dental sedation.

If any of these reasons describe you, be sure to communicate concerns with your dentist. Sedation is commonly associated with particular dental procedures. These include dental implantation, tooth extractions, and root canals. If you’re planning on getting one of these done, talk to your dentist about sedation options. Make sure you’re informed. Note: you don’t need sedation for smaller procedures like X-rays and teeth cleaning. 

5. Which Dental Sedation Method Should You Choose?

There are two important things to consider before choosing your dental sedation method. The first is your response history when it comes to dental care. Have you had major anxiety at the dentist before? Have you ever had an allergic reaction to a sedative? How did you feel after being administered certain sedatives in the past? Did you experience any problems of any kind? Answering these questions to yourself and to your dentist will help guide your decision.

The second thing to think about is the type of dental procedure you’re getting. Does your procedure typically involve needles? Are you fearful of needles? If so the IV method is probably not the best choice because it involves a needle in your arm. It’s common for people sitting in a dental chair to feel uncomfortably vulnerable. If this is you, probably go with a local anesthetic. IV sedation (sleep dentistry) is a good choice for people who have a fear of dental-related pain. 

6. What Drugs Are Used During Sedation Dentistry?

Depending on the dentist’s preference, he will use one of a variety of sedation drugs on his patients. There are six that are the most common. They are Valium, Halcion, Sonata, Ativan, Vistaril, and Versed.

Used since the 60s, Valium is one of the longest-lasting sedation drugs used by medical professionals. When patients are undergoing procedures that will last a long time (3+ hours), Valium is often used. Of all six sedation drugs on this list, Valium is certainly the most well-known.

 People who are being treated for insomnia will likely be familiar with Halcion. This is the field where it is primarily used. It’s also used by dentists as an oral sedative. It’s common for antihistamines to be administered simultaneously with Halcion.

Another drug associated with insomnia treatment as well as sedation dentistry is Sonata. Compared to Halcion, it has virtually the same effects.

Ativan is used in sedation dentistry in addition to treating people suffering from anxiety. Compared to Valium’s long-lasting effect, this sedation drug has a medium-lasting effect. For procedures lasting around 2-2.5 hours, Ativan is often used. 

Though it does not have any amnesic properties, Vistaril is a hybrid sedation/antihistamine drug. In addition to dental sedation uses, it’s also sometimes used to treat anxiety, similar to Ativan.

The effects of Vistaril only last approximately 1 hour, making it the least time-effective sedation drug on this list. But that certainly doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. Its use is relatively common in dental offices because there are many dental procedures that take less than an hour.

7. How Much Does It Cost To Be Sedated At The Dentist?

The cost can vary depending on a few different factors. But for the most part, costs associated with sedation dentistry are relatively similar across the board. The following information will give you an idea of what you can expect.

Cost – Nitrous Oxide

For sedation involving inhalation (laughing gas), prices typically range from $25 to around $150. How much nitrous oxide is administered affects price, as does geographic location. On average, $70-80 is what people typically pay for this.

Cost – Oral Pills

This type of dental sedation is considered light compared to some of the other methods. These pills are swallowed by the patient before the procedure. Price can vary depending on the brand of the medication and how much is administered. Typically, the cost is somewhere between $150 and $450+. Previously mentioned sedation drugs like Halcion, Versed, and Valium are of the oral variety. 

Cost – IVs

The cost of this method usually falls between $450-$750. Though it can be as cheap as $250 and in some cases can exceed $900. Some in the industry refer to IV sedation as sleep dentistry. On the sedation spectrum, the IV method falls between moderate and deep. Not all dentists are certified for IV sedation. Requirements must be met if a dentist wants to perform this kind of sedation dentistry.

Sedation Dentistry Cost – General Anesthesia

The price for general anesthesia is affected by procedure complexity. But usually, it falls between $500 and $700. Though it can be as low as $350 and as high as $900 (or more). The only reason a dentist would administer general anesthesia to a patient is for surgery. And in these cases, a dental anesthesiologist would administer it. 

Sometimes dental insurance covers sedation, but not always. Check your plan to see if yours does. Some dentists have been known to wave sedation dentistry costs depending on certain scenarios.

8. Guess What? The Fear of Dentists Is A Real Thing.

Have you heard of dentophobia – the fear of dentists? It’s actually more common than you might think. Sometimes dentophobia is lumped in with the fear of doctors, or iatrophobia. There’s also an official name for the fear of needles. Trypanophobia. For some people, these conditions can come into play when visiting the dentist or thinking about doing so. 

People with dentophobia are specifically afraid of one, some, or all of these four things. (1) Pain, (2) numbness (and gagging), (3) smells and sounds associated with a dental office, (4) needles, or (5) the dentist himself. 

But please don’t take this personally, all you dentists out there. It’s not about you. It’s about what you do. 😉

Sedation Dentistry (All Your Questions Answered) – Conclusion

Try not to ignore your oral health because of a fear you may have. This is certainly easier said than done, but it’s worth mentioning. If you have a broken tooth, severe toothache, or other dental issues – cosmetic or otherwise – don’t wait. When you procrastinate an oral health problem, it almost always gets worse with time. The more complicated the issue becomes, the more extensive the eventual dental work will be. 

Ask your dentist about any concerns you have related to sedation dentistry. Contrary to many rumors we’ve heard, dental sedation is very safe. All the methods mentioned here have been tested and tried for years. We’re fortunate to live in the age of modern medicine with access to sedation technology. It prevents so many patients from feeling anxiety and pain at the dentist’s office.