Do the palms of your hands start to sweat at the very thought of sitting in a dentist chair? Believe it or not, fear of the dentist is a real thing. It is an anxiety that prevents many people from getting proper dental care. One study suggests dental phobia affects as much as 24 percent of the population in developed countries.
This anxiety has far reaching consequences, as well. Gum disease is linked to heart problems, stroke and diabetes. What is the answer? How do you help someone who is afraid of the dentist maintain proper oral health? The dental community has come up with a solution that allows many sufferers to overcome this fear.
Sedation dentistry is not just a trend; it is a medical necessity for some and practical approach to dental care and maintenance for anyone who dreads a trip to the office. Start the New Year off right by learning more about this specialty and how you can find a sedation dentist.
What is Sedation Dentistry?
The term sedation is bit misleading. A sedation dentist uses oral or intravenous medications to ease the anxiety people feel when getting dental treatment completed. Sedation dentistry in a general practice where many dental appointments can be completed in one visit is a “conscious sedation”. A conscious sedation is where the patient is very relaxed, will have little to no memory of the visit, and maintains their own airway and protective breathing responses. Time seems to fly by and many hour appointments can seem like minutes. It is truly the best way for really fearful and phobic dental patients to have their work completed in a safe and secure environment.
Oral sedation, with a pill under the tongue, is a common treatment used for shorter visits. IV sedation is the “gold standard” in anesthesia and helps to keep patients safely sedated over many hours if needed. The sedation can be deepened or lightened very easily during the visit. Oral sedation is great for short visits, but the doses under the tongue cannot be “stacked” and can only be given once. This is limiting if the patient starts to wake up during the visit and becomes un-sedated. In using the IV, the sedation medication is simply put in the IV tube and the sedation is deepened.
What are the Levels of Sedation?
Sedation comes in levels designed to fit the needs of the patient.
You sit in the chair fully awake, but feeling relaxed with the use of Nitrous Oxide or “laughing gas”. The Nitrous Oxide takes away anxiety, and relaxes the patient so that they can complete their dental work. Once the appointment is over, 100% oxygen for 10 minutes completely cleans away the Nitrous effects and the patient feels back to normal. The patient can drive home and does not need a driver to pick them up.
This is also known as “conscious sedation.” It is the level of sedation that all oral and IV sedation visits in a general dental office, should be kept in. The patient will be very relaxed, will feel like they are in a sleep or dream state, but with be able to breathe on their own and keep their protective reflexes intact. Patients will have little or no memory of the visit, and usually wake up feeling refreshed and relaxed.
Deep sedation takes you to beyond Moderate sedation and relaxes you so much that you lose your protective reflexes and need to have your breathing assisted with a breathing tube. This is not the level of sedation used in a general dental office. Oral Surgery offices use this level of sedation.
This is surgical anesthesia and is usually used in a hospital. You are unconscious and unaware of anything happening around you When you wake, you will not remember the treatment at all.
The staff will go over the different levels with you and help you decide which is the most appropriate for your level of anxiety and health situation.
How Sedation is Delivered?
Just like there are different levels of sedation, they are different delivery techniques, too. Not all sedation dentists offer each type, so this is a question you might ask when looking to find the right one.
This minimal sedation technique provides nitrous oxide mixed with oxygen via a mask. The level of nitrous oxide can be safely adjusted to the patients desired level. At the end of the appointment, 100% oxygen is used to clear out the nitrous and bring the patient back to normal.
This delivery option provides minimal to moderate sedation, depending on the dose. Drug options include sedation pills dissolved under the tongue that makes you feel drowsy, relaxed and even feel like you are sleeping. You will have little to no memory of the visit. You will need to have someone accompany you to the office and drive you home after the visit.
Intravenous sedation means that an IV will be started to deliver the sedation medications easily and quickly. This also allows the dentist to give you sedation meds as well during the treatment, as needed. This is why it’s called the “Gold Standard” in Moderate ‘conscious’ sedation. You will feel relaxed but groggy after the visit. You will need someone to pick you up, drive you home and be available to be with you until you fully recover.
Who Should Consider Sedation?
Sedation isn’t limited to those afraid or phobic about going to the dentist. There are many reasons to consider this relaxation service.
- A low pain threshold
- Severe gag reflex
- Have difficulty sitting for long times
- Hate the sounds, smells or feeling of having dental work done.
- Would like to get a lot of work done with no memory of the visit
- Had traumatic dental experiences as children or adults
Have trouble getting numb and staying numb
Are very busy, cannot take time off work and want to complete many visits in one appointment.
These are all good reasons to consider dental sedation.
How to Find a Sedation Dentist
Many dentists will use the term “sedation dentistry” in their marketing information, so healthcare consumers know they offer this service. Some dentists only use nitrous oxide and say they offer sedation dentistry. Make sure the type of sedation you are looking for is provided by office you are calling. The relationship between patient and dentist is a personal one, so it is important to find someone who makes you comfortable. Start by asking a few questions:
- What type of patients you do see?
- Is the dentist certified to provide Moderate sedation with oral or IV medications?
- What type of in- office monitoring equipment is used during the sedation appointment to keep the patient safe?
- What forms of sedation do you offer?
- How much training have you had in sedation dentistry? For example, do you participate in continuing education programs on sedation?
- Do you belong to any organizations that support this technique like the American Dental Society of Anesthesiology? What about dental associations like the Academy of General Dentistry?
- How long have you offered sedation services and how often do you use it?
These are all relevant questions that can help you find the right dentist for your needs.
Sedation dentistry is a safe and practical choice for those people who would otherwise avoid getting dental care. There is no reason not to have healthy teeth and good oral hygiene with the modern dental techniques available today like sedation. Don’t let fear take away your oral health or bright smile.
Dr. Ron Briglia is certified in oral/IV sedation and has safely treated hundreds of patients since 2003. Our office is equipped with hospital grade monitors, emergency equipment and supplies. Our sedation services are delivered in a safe, friendly and comfortable sedation suite. We have dental specialists available to provide care as needed during sedation appointments as well. If you have any questions on sedation dentistry, please don’t hesitate to give our West Chester, PA dental practice a call at