Dental Sedation Options: What You Need to Know

Dr. Kyle Hornby

Estimates suggest that close to 75% of adults in North America experience some level of dental fear or anxiety. Within this group, 5-10% experience a level of anxiety consistent with dental phobia. Dental Sedation provides an option for these people to receive necessary treatment comfortably and without anxiety. Below I explore some super-important, "need to know" bits of information so you can navigate having dental treatment with sedation.

What is dental sedation?

Dental sedation is, by definition, a drug-induced alternate state of consciousness that enables dental treatment. More plainly, sedation involves using different substances or medical compounds to relax you for your treatment appointment. Patients more commonly request dental sedation for longer, more challenging appointments such as for root canal treatment or dental extractions. However, some patients will request sedation for shorter appointments for Dental Cleanings and Dental Fillings.

The degree of relaxation can differ. In some cases (like with nitrous oxide or "laughing gas"), you remain conscious but experience extreme relaxation. In other cases, a moderate intravenous sedative can make you feel very "whoozy" such that you are awake but cannot really maintain a conversation. At the most extreme end of this spectrum is General Anesthesia, under which your are unconscious. Generally, as you get into stronger modes of sedation, your health risks go up.

Please visit our Dental Sedation & Anxiety Management page for a more detailed description of sedation options.

Pediatric Dentistry and Sedation

The #1 most common use for dental sedation is to enable dental treatment for children. There are 2 trends that have made this so. First, Family Dentists are referring children to Specialists for treatment at a greater rate now. Second, Specialists such as Pediatric Dentists are recommending sedation for treatment more commonly. Some children may have higher activity levels and require mild sedation for completion of treatment. Others may do just fine without sedation. Here are some very useful questions to ask the Dentist/Specialist if they recommend sedation for your little one:

  • Is there a chance we can do treatment without sedation?
  • What are all sedation options available to me?
  • If General Anesthesia is recommended, ask if treatment can be attempted with a milder form of sedation.
  • Can we do treatment in smaller chunks across multiple appointments?

Is sedation dentistry dangerous?

When taking medical compounds or drugs, risks always exist. You take small risks when you consume Tylenol, Advil and other medicines. With dental sedation options, the stronger the sedative the greater the risk. Greatest risks exist with General Anesthesia while Laughing Gas carries with it almost no risk. Some treatments and situations demand General Anesthetic and there may not be an alternative. However, we always want to make sure we can have treatment done with the mildest sedative possible (and if that's no sedative then even better still!).

So, ask lots of questions if sedation is recommended for you or your little one.

Cost Considerations & Dental Insurance

If you are exploring sedation options for dental treatment, you can get a cost estimate from your Dentist. Additionally, you can ask your Dentist to submit a pre-determination to your insurance provider to find out if you have sedation coverage. Keep in mind that not all insurance plans cover sedation and so it is important to know about any out of pocket costs you may incur.

It is also important to keep in mind that sedation fees differ depending on who is providing treatment. Specifically, a General Dentist's sedation fee will be lower than that of a Dental Specialist.

Pros and Cons of Having Dental Sedation

The Pros:

  • Eliminates dental anxiety and provides a more pleasant treatment experience
  • The costs are covered by most insurance providers
  • Can help diminish pain and discomfort
  • Relieves jaw discomfort for patients who find it difficult to open widely for long periods of time
  • Facilitates necessary treatment for patients who might otherwise avoid proper care

The Cons:

  • Downtime before and after appointment (i.e. no driving period after appointment due to drowsiness and impaired cognitive function)
  • Additional costs
  • You'll need to arrange a ride home from your Kitchener Dental Office

Update (July 23rd, 2020): Dental Sedation FAQs

What is IV Sedation Dentistry?

There are 3 modes of intake for sedatives: Oral (tablets or liquid), Intravenous, and Inhalational. Nitrous Oxide or "Laughing Gas" is an inhalational sedative and it's very mild in effect. Oral sedatives include Triazolam, which Pediatric Dentists commonly use when treating children.

Intravenous (or "IV") sedatives are typically used to provide moderate to profound sedation. IV sedatives can provide conscious or unconscious sedation. Generally, patients do not remember treatment following IV sedation.

Can you eat before receiving Sedation Dentistry?

Typically, no. There will often be a period between 2 - 12 hours of no food or liquid consumption before dental sedation. For laughing gas sedation, the NPO (no eating or drinking) period is 2 hours prior to appointment time. For IV sedative and General Anesthetic, the NPO period is much longer.

Can you drive after Sedation Dentistry?

In most cases, the answer is "no". You can only drive after sedation with Nitrous Oxide or Laughing Gas. This is because your body processes and clears Nitrous Oxide rapidly. As long as your Family Dentist clears the Laughing Gas with 100% oxygen for 10 minutes following your appointment, there are no restrictions on driving post-appointment.

For all other forms of dental sedation, you will need to arrange a ride home after treatment. Your dental office will need you to confirm that you have a ride home following your appointment.

By Dr. Kyle Hornby, Kitchener Dentist

If you would like to discuss dental sedation or arrange a no-charge Meet & Greet appointment with me, give us a call at (519) 576-8160 or request a consult here.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your Kitchener Dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a dental condition or treatment.

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