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Anesthesia and Sedation

Advances in dental techniques and medications have to some extent eliminated a complaint commonly heard in the past: “I don’t want to go to the dentist because I’m afraid it might hurt.” Rest assured, our dentists are committed to making your visits as relaxed and as comfortable as possible, and modern medications make that goal easier for us to achieve. There are many different types of pain- and anxiety-relieving medications used in dental practice today:

  • Local anesthesia – These can range from topical anesthetics, applied to the gums via a swab to numb the surface area, to more powerful local anesthetics such as lidocaine (the modern version of novacaine), injected into the areas of the mouth that are being worked on to completely numb those areas for 1.5 to 2 hours.
  • Anxiety-reducing medications (mild sedation) – In addition to local anesthetics, other anti-anxiety medications such as nitrous oxide (sometimes called “laughing gas”), can be used by your dentist to help you relax. Other mild sedatives can be also used to induce a state of moderate sedation or “twilight sleep” in which you are relaxed, yet still awake and able to respond to speech or touch.
  • General anesthesia (full sedation) – More complex treatments (or a high level of anxiety in the patient) may suggest the use of full anesthesia, which causes a loss of consciousness. The procedure is performed while the patient is asleep.
  • Analgesics – Non-narcotic analgesics such as aspirin, Ibuprofen or Tylenol are commonly used to reduce pain following oral surgery. For more serious pain, your dentist may prescribe stronger analgesics that work on the central nervous system to block pain.

What can I expect if my dental procedures require anesthesia?

First, discuss any fears or anxieties you have about pain or about the use of any form of anesthesia with your dentist before the procedure starts. Your dentist can explain the different options to you, and help you choose those that will make you most comfortable.

If you are having a procedure such as filling a cavity, the dentist may swab the area with a topic anesthetic before injecting a more powerful anesthetic, so that you don’t even feel the sting of the needle. All you’ll feel is a slight pressure, and then a feeling of numbness in that area. This numbness usually wears off within an hour of finishing the procedure. Any residual pain can then usually be managed with analgesics.

Nitrous oxide is usually administered via a nose mask; you just breathe normally, and the anesthetic induces a sense of euphoria or relaxation. Other mild sedatives may be administered orally, or by injection, or via an intravenous (IV) drip. Full sedation is usually administered using an IV drip, sometimes accompanied by the use of a face mask, but you may not even remember the use of the mask when you wake up.