According to a survey from the 1987 Dental Health Advisor rating people’s biggest fears, going to the dentist was #2 on the list (second only to public speaking). Sedation dentistry to the rescue!
This common fear of the dentist office is often expressed in film and television as stylized, exaggerated visions of torture, showing dentists as sadists who enjoy making people suffer. Below is a Facebook ad I made for my office. I quickly found these images on Google by searching for variations of the words “dentist”, “crazy”, and “pain”.
This collage of images, while extreme, reflects the public’s perception of a trip to the dental office.
Anxiety about a dental visit can increase someone’s blood pressure and heart rate before I even come in the room, making anything we do more stressful for the patient. Stressful visits can cause people to stay away from the dentist until they absolutely have to go because of a toothache. Sedation can be used to help break this pattern.
Any dentist practicing sedation in Alabama is required to complete special training on the subject and be licensed to do it. I completed this training during my General Practice Residency at UAB.
Sedation in dentistry can be done orally or intravenously (needle in the arm). I currently only do oral sedation, so I’ll focus the discussion there.
Oral sedation requires giving a patient one (or a couple) pills or liquid doses of a sedative drug. A very common and safe type of drug for this purpose are benzodiazepines, or “benzos”. Valium and Xanax are examples of benzos. Benzos make you drowsy, relaxed, and forgetful, with the intent of making you mind a little less that you are having dental work done. Sedative medications can be used alone or along with nitrous oxide (aka “laughing gas”) to make the procedure as comfortable as possible. They are generally taken 30 minutes to an hour before a procedure (sometimes the night before also), and can have effects lasting into the next day, therefore you can’t drive or operate dangerous equipment until the following day.
Oral sedation is not the same as being “put to sleep” – the goal is for you to be comfortable and not really “all there,” but still able to breathe on your own and hear the dentist if he talks to you.
Your vital signs (blood pressure, heart rate, and the amount of oxygen in your blood) are monitored constantly throughout the procedure. If someone becomes too “sleepy” during a procedure, benzos can be reversed quickly with another drug called flumazenil. The fact that benzos can be “undone” is one of the reasons they are safe.
Sedation is not for everyone – each patient is evaluated individually, and if sedation is an option, a specific plan is made based on that patient’s specific needs.
If you’ve stayed away from the dentist because your nerves just can’t handle it, call us. Sedation may work for you.
Until next time.
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