While we're on the phone with new patients, we commonly hear remarks like: I hate…
Some people just really dislike going to the dentist. Or, more accurately, they fear it. This is usually due to a previous unpleasant experience, tooth sensitivity, smell aversions, etc. Whatever the root of the fear may be, it’s important to know that there are several options that dentists can offer to help appease anxiety and discomfort. That said, avoiding the dentist altogether should never be an option. This will only lead to bigger dental and oral health issues down the line.
It’s natural to be afraid of the unknown and the intricacies of dentistry are pretty mysterious. You have to lay in a reclined chair with a bright light shining over you as the dentist pokes and prods around in your mouth, it’s understandably not ideal. You know going to the dentist is important, but mentally preparing for the discomfort can put anyone’s nerves on edge.
If anxiety and discomfort are preventing you from seeking dental care, sedation dentistry may be right for you. Anaesthetic is used in the most extensive dental procedures so patients don’t feel discomfort, but it’s also possible to be anesthetized during routine procedures.
Sedation dentistry, also known as sleep dentistry, is when the patient receives some manner of anesthesia before or during their visit. Anesthesia can range from mild numbing to total unconsciousness. Your dentist will help you choose what type is most appropriate for you. Keep in mind that driving yourself home after your sedated dental procedure is not permitted, so you’ll need to have someone accompany you to your appointment.
There are three main types of anesthesia used for dentistry:
- Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous Oxide, or as it’s more commonly known, “laughing gas”, is the most well-known of the dental sedatives. Nitrous oxide can turn anxiety into giggles and provides effective local numbing while allowing the patient to retain consciousness.
Nitrous oxide is a colourless, odourless gas that immediately puts the patient in a happy, relaxed state. It’s very safe and wears off within a few hours. It is a preferred sedation method for children who are nervous about an upcoming dentist visit. Nitrous oxide is used for minimally invasive procedures such as tooth removal and biopsies.
- Oral Sedatives
There are a wide variety of oral sedatives that can help patients relax for dental work. Patients can take medication up to a day before the procedure to prepare themselves. Drugs often used for oral sedation include diazepam, triazolam, zaleplon, lorazepam, and hydroxyzine. The shelf-life and intensity of these oral sedatives varies so your dentist will need to suggest the one that’s right for you.
- Intravenous Sedatives
Intravenous sedation is used for general anesthesia, most commonly in hospital procedures. This type of sedation completely knocks you out so you have no perception or memory of your dental procedure. Intravenous sedation can also put you into a “twilight sleep” where you’re not totally unconscious but are still very groggy. General anesthesia isn’t advised, except for the most invasive dental work, as the side effects of sedation itself can be severe and take a long time to wear off.
Phobia of the dentist is very real and significantly impacts people’s decision to proceed with dental work. Between 9-15% of people avoid seeing the dentist because of anxiety. In a survey, people who eschew dental work were asked what their main reason for doing so was and out of those surveyed, 36% said fear.
Avoiding the dentist puts you at far greater risk for all manner of oral health issues, both medical and aesthetic. Those who don’t make the dentist part of their annual routine are more prone to tooth decay, cavities, and degradation of essential structures such as gums and jaw bone.
Dentists are there to enhance your quality of life, not make you feel uncomfortable. In fact, the more often you see the dentist, the less likely you are to experience discomfort or require extensive dental work in the future.
Sometimes dental anxiety simply won’t go away. If this sounds like you, ask your Dawson Dentist about your sedation options before your next visit.