Dental Sedation Explained

by | May 28, 2021 | Dental Implants, Sedation Dentistry

Making the dentist’s office more agreeable
Some people aren’t comfortable at the dentist’s office; others are downright terrified.

Fortunately for this second group of people, the straight jacket isn’t the only option for successful dental work. Sedation dentistry offers a relaxing solution to dental anxiety.

Who is it for?

Sedation dentistry is for anyone who is overly anxious about getting into the dentist’s chair. Some people have belonephobia, which is the technical term for a fear of needles and sharp objects, which both abound in the office. Some people had bad experiences in the past. Others are simply scared of the dentist.

Some estimates say that 30 percent of the population avoids the dentist out of fear.

Other people simply have a low pain threshold, sensitive teeth, have a bad gag reflex or can’t sit still.

Sometimes dental work has to be done to save a person from escalating problems and more serious long-term consequences, even if they have dental phobia or other susceptibilities. This is where sedation can help.

What is it?

The “sedation” in Hollywood movies is often brutal and violent. Dental sedation is actually quite different. The whole point isn’t to knock you out, but to simply relax you, to calm you down so your fears shrink. Some procedures may require complete unconsciousness, but usually you will have be put into varying levels of consciousness, according to WebMD:

  • Minimal sedation: Awake but relaxed.
  • Moderate sedation: You might slur words and not remember the procedure.
  • Deep sedation: On the edge of consciousness, but still can be awakened.

The dentist gives you sedatives in a variety of ways. An IV was often used in the past, which isn’t especially relaxing, especially for people whose main fear is needles. Sedation today often involves nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas.” Patients simply inhale the gas through a mask.

Oral sedation is the most common technique. These sedatives, which come in pill form, usually put the patient in minimal to moderate sedation. It feels like they’ve slept through the procedure. This is excellent for people terrified of the prospect of going to the dentist. Not only do they feel no pain; they don’t remember anything, making the next visit that much easier.

Furthermore, when on sedatives, the procedure seems to last a shorter time. A procedure taking hours can feel like minutes. Sedation can also reduce the number of times a patient needs to visit the dentist, since more so much can be done during the time of sedation, without the patient’s discomfort. When the procedures required are particularly extensive, sedation helps both patient and doctor.

These sedation procedures are not pain killers, meaning patients will often still need shots to numb the pain. But the sedatives put the patient in a condition where the prospect of needles is no longer scary.

Potential drugs your dentist will use include:

  • Valium: Often used in extensive appointments.
  • Ativan: Often used in appointments longer than two hours.
  • Versed: Often used for shorter appointments.


Sedative dentistry is very safe (just make sure you have someone to drive you home). Obese people, or those with sleep apnea, should consult with the dentist before taking sedatives, according to WebMD.

In general, certain sedatives are better for certain people. Make your medical history clear to the dentist before the procedure begins.