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What are the Different Types of Dental Sedation?

By M.R. Anglin
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Generally, there are four types of dental sedation: oral sedation, intravenous (IV) sedation, nitrous oxide sedation, and general anesthesia. Which of these sedation methods is used during a particular procedure depends on a patient’s unique situation. Many times, dental sedation is used to calm a patient who has anxiety about needles or a dental procedure. By using the various sedation methods, a dentist can help a patient relax so he doesn’t mind receiving a local anesthetic or remember the procedure. Most dental sedation methods do not put a patient to sleep, but rather help them to relax before and during the procedure.

Perhaps one of the most well-known dental sedation techniques is nitrous oxide (N2O), also known as laughing gas. When administered, a patient will breathe a mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen through a nose mask. The gas takes effect within minutes and sends the patient into a euphoric and relaxed, but conscious, state. The gas may not reduce pain, however, and so a local anesthetic may have to be administered before the procedure takes place. Often, the gas’s effect will dissipate quickly and will not prevent a person from leaving the dental office under his own power.

An IV sedative may also be used to prepare an anxious patient for a dental procedure. In this sedation method, the sedative is introduced directly into a patient’s vein. Again, the person is conscious, but a deep sedation method may be used in which a patient is close to unconsciousness. In some cases, a patient under deep sedation may not be able to breathe and so a dentist must be constantly aware. IV sedatives also do not prevent a patient from feeling pain, and a local anesthetic may need to be used for that purpose.

Another dental sedation method is the use of oral sedatives. In this case, a patient is given medication to take at a certain time before the dental procedure. This pill will relax the patient so that he feels less anxiety and may not even remember the procedure. Like nitrous oxide and IV sedation, the patient is still conscious during the procedure and is able to respond to the dentist’s commands, although he may not remember it later. Oral sedatives may also necessitate the use of local anesthesia since it also does not prevent a patient from feeling pain.

General anesthesia is normally reserved for complex dental procedures and does put the patient to sleep. This sedation method does carry certain risks, including a slight chance of death. A patient under the effects of general anesthesia will not feel pain and often is not able to breathe on his own. It is often required, therefore, that the doctor put a breathing tube down the patient’s throat while he is under the general anesthesia. A patient who had this type of sedative will often not be able to drive for several hours after the procedure, and so it is recommended that the patient arrange for a ride home from the dentist's office or hospital.

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Discussion Comments
By Raynbow — On Apr 17, 2014

@rundocuri- I have had nitrous oxide, and I didn't like the way it made me feel at all. I still felt nervous after it having it, and I was also nauseated. I do have strange side effects to many types of drugs though, so I may be the exception to most peoples' experiences with laughing gas. However, I would rather take an oral sedation if I had the choice.

By Ocelot60 — On Apr 17, 2014

@rundocuri- If you are just a little nervous and want to take the edge off while having your dental procedure, I think you will do fine with nitrous oxide. It makes you feel relaxed and able to have dental work done without stressing about it.

However, this drug doesn't knock you out completely, and you will still be aware of what is going on in the room. If you don't like that idea, you should maybe ask your dentist about having a stronger dental sedation when you have your procedure. Good luck to you!

By Rundocuri — On Apr 16, 2014

I have an upcoming dental procedure scheduled, and I want to be sedated for it. I don't like the idea of taking pills or having anesthesia, so I am considering having nitrous oxide. Does anyone have experience with this type of sedation? What effects should I expect and does it work well?

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