Advances in sedation dentistry have made sedation of dental patients much more common than it was in the past. For over a hundred years, sedation in traditional dental procedures was typically limited to nitrous oxide, also called “laughing gas”. In recent years, dentists have expanded the use of other sedation techniques to relax patients and help relieve dental phobia and anxiety.
Sedation techniques are also used for patients who are unable to tolerate traditional dental procedures for various reasons such as an uncontrolled gag reflex, inability to get numb with local anesthetics, or special needs patients who cannot sit quietly for more than a few minutes. In addition, sedation dentistry can be used for patients who need extensive dental work and want to get as much work done as possible in a single visit.
Although many dentists offer sedation dentistry (also called sleep dentistry), there is actually a range of sedation options and only a few dentists offer a full range of sedation dentistry. In general, the best level of sedation is the mildest level that will allow the patient to comfortably undergo dental care without pain or anxiety. You and your dentist can choose the appropriate level of sedation to meet your needs.
The mildest form of sedation is nitrous oxide which has been around for decades and many patients are familiar with. Some dentists offer a deeper level of sedation using oral or intravenous sedatives. This is called conscious sedation because even if the patient falls asleep, they can be easily awoken and respond to questions.
Unconscious sedation while the patient is under general anesthesia is the deepest level of sedation. An anesthesiologist or anesthetist will administer the sedative in a hospital operating room or surgical suite while the dentist performs the dental treatment.
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