Today’s dentists offer several different types of sedation dentistry. The mildest form of sedation in dentistry is nitrous oxide which is available in most dentists’ offices. Nitrous oxide is given as a gas and produces a light headed euphoria in the patient. There is also some anesthetic effect but the dentist will numb the area to be worked on with lidocaine or some other anesthetic. Patients who receive nitrous oxide usually remain awake throughout the dental procedure.
Oral sedatives provide deeper sedation than nitrous oxide, but there is little control over the level of sedation or the timing once the patient has taken the sedative. Intravenous sedation produces the same deeper sedation, but provided the dentist with much greater control since the dentist can adjust the flow of the sedative to cause the patient to be more or less sedated. The dentist is also able to control when the sedative takes effect and when it will stop.
Sedation using nitrous oxide or oral and intravenous sedatives are referred to as conscious sedation because the patient is always conscious. The patient may be so relaxed that they fall asleep, but the patient is easily awoken and can respond to questions. Whether awake or asleep, one effect of conscious sedation is that the patient usually has little or no memory of the dental procedure. They are usually surprised that the treatment is completed so quickly, even if it has actually taken several hours. More and more dentists are offering oral or intravenous sedation dentistry.
Finally, the deepest level of sedation is unconscious sedation using general anesthesia. Only a few dentists have the training and experience necessary for performing dentistry while the patient is under unconscious sedation. Since full sedation with general anesthesia is usually done in a hospital operating room, it is often call “hospital dentistry”.
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