Anxious Patients

Sedation dentistry can help nervous patients overcome dental anxiety

Dentists will do their utmost to offer a relaxed environment that puts patients at ease, yet appreciate that some people find the experience stressful.

Dental anxiety is common for many people, especially when the dentist is treating conditions that are already painful such as tooth decay or gum disease.

Sedation Dentistry

While your dentist will always endeavour to make your time in the chair as comfortable as possible, for some patients, the experience can be slightly more nerve-racking. Sedation dentistry works to soothe patients' anxiety about their upcoming treatment, whether it be a routine cleaning or a more intensive procedure.

Through the careful use of sedative medication, your dentist can aid in alleviating any of the nerves or reservations you may hold about your oral treatment, as well as any pain or potential discomfort.

How does sedation dentistry work?

Although sedation dentistry is also referred to as "sleep dentistry" for the most part, patients will be awake, with the exception of those undergoing full anaesthesia. Your dentist will talk to you about your options for sedation before your upcoming procedure, to find the method which will work best for you personally.

Dental anxiety is fairly common among patients, particularly for those who are suffering from painful pre-existing conditions such as gum disease and teeth which are damaged or decayed. Through the administration of a mild sedative prior to a procedure, the mind will relax and put a patient into a calmer state. Some patients may even experience drowsiness, to some degree.

By utilising one of the following sedation techniques during your next procedure, your dentist can help the experience to be as comfortable and stress free as possible.

What are the different methods of sedation?

Nitrous Oxide

Traditionally, the main method used in sedation dentistry is nitrous oxide, otherwise known as "happy gas" or "laughing gas". A nitrous oxide/oxygen gas is administered through an oxygen mask placed over your nose, usually containing 50-70 per cent nitrous oxide. The release of the gas is carefully controlled by a machine to ensure that the proper balance is maintained throughout the procedure.

Once the gas has taken effect, patients will find themselves in a state of relaxation – some are so relaxed in fact, that they drift off to sleep over the course of their treatment, and awake at the end remembering fairly little.

While nitrous oxide does hold some pain-relief properties, most commonly patients will be administered a local anaesthetic, effectively numbing the area which is to be treated so you won't feel any pain.

The benefit of nitrous oxide is that patients generally remain awake whilst under its effect, meaning that it is easier for your dentist to give you any instructions or talk you throughout the procedure if necessary.

At the end of your treatment, the nitrous oxide gas supply will simply be stopped, oxygen continued until the effect has worn off, usually within a matter of minutes.

General Anaesthesia

Usually general anaesthesia is reserved for more lengthy or invasive dental procedures where it is preferable for a patient to be fully unconscious for the duration of the treatment.

While under a general anaesthetic, patients will fall into a sleep-like state, where they will be oblivious to anything happening around them, as well as unaware of any possible pain or discomfort. A dentist will usually recommend general anaesthetic for extended treatments during a single session, such as a wisdom tooth extraction.

As general anaesthetic can only be administered by a qualified anaesthetist, your procedure may take place in a hospital, or in a purpose built dental surgery. The anaesthetic will either be injected in the back of a patient's hand or in the forearm.

The anaesthetist will be on hand throughout to monitor your vital signs while your dentist carries out the treatment, as well as tending to you until you regain consciousness once the procedure is complete.

It is recommended that any patients undergoing general anaesthetic allow themselves 24 hours to recover, as mental acuity can be impeded and affect your ability to make decisions and perform other tasks like cooking and driving.

Intravenous sedation (IV sedation)

Intravenous (IV) sedation, otherwise known as "twilight" sedation, involves a mild dose of general aesthetic, which does not induce full unconsciousness but instead places patients into a calm state free of anxiety.

Similar to nitrous oxide gas, IV sedation may cause patients to feel relaxed to the point of sleepiness, but allows them to still follow any instructions from their dentist during the procedure.

As the name suggests, in this form of sedative dentistry, the sedative substance is delivered to your body intravenously into your bloodstream. The process has also been described as twilight sedation as patients tend to become very docile or tranquil, surfacing from the sedation with very little recollection of their dental treatment experience.

Most patients scheduled to undergo a minor dental procedure are ideal candidates for IV sedation, although your dentist will refer to your medical history to ensure that you are eligible for the process. Typically those with allergies to benzodiazepines, or who are pregnant or have glaucoma may not be suited to this type of sedation dentistry.

Oral Sedation

For those who are experiencing considerable levels of anxiety towards their next dental procedure, your dentist may recommend a form of oral sedation administered in a simple tablet form.

Patients who are prescribed this sort of sedative by a qualified dentist or sedationist will usually take this pill a few hours prior to their treatment, in order to relax them and soothe any nerves.

An active component in oral sedation is a drug group by the name benzodiazepines, which have a sedative effect often coupled with a slight amnesiac, meaning that patients may not fully recall their dental procedure afterwards.

One of the considerations to bear in mind with oral sedation is once it has been administered, the dosage cannot be modified during your treatment as with other sedation dentistry.

Will there be any lasting effects from sedation after my procedure?

The majority of sedation dentistry will have short term after effects which begin to wear off as soon as the treatment is complete. With most of these sedation techniques, you will be free to leave within less than an hour, although it is highly recommended you are escorted by another adult who can drive you if need be.

In most cases, there is a high chance that you will remember little of your dental procedure, if anything. Those who undergo general anaesthetic will need to take further precautions post-surgery or treatment, allowing a minimum period of 24 hours to recover from the effects of the sedation, not including time to recover from the procedure itself.

Your dentist will be happy to discuss your options for sedation dentistry on your next visit, and together you can decide on the best solution for making your dental procedure as painless and stress-free as possible.

So if you want to know more about our sedation procedures, read more here in Dentipedia or simply contact us to make an appointment.

See Dentipedia for a full overview of the different sedation options available for nervous patients. 

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