You’re sitting in the dentist’s chair. The bright light is drying out your eyes, your mouth is dry, and they haven’t even started your cleaning. You wonder if you’ve flossed enough. Do you have a cavity? Will they mock your oral hygiene routine? Will a piece of dental equipment break off and lodge itself in your throat, ending your life and causing your family heartache and distress? Will the chair you’re in suddenly catch fire, leaving you to burn in a state of utter terror?
Maybe your anxiety about the dentist isn’t that bad, but many people are afraid of the dentist. He or she is just there to help you, making sure your pearlies are as pearly white as they can be and preventing you from developing tooth decay and gingivitis, but you fear him or her more than spiders, clowns, or serial killers. In fact, many people are so afraid of the dentist that they forego the twice-annual cleaning and let that plaque just build up on their teeth, putting them at risk for dental woes, as well as a host of other, more life-threatening illnesses.
Lucky for those people, someone savvy created sedation dentistry. What is it? How does it work? How does it benefit the anxious dental patient?
What it Is
It is the sedation (via tranquilizers, anti-anxiety meds, or just straight knock-out gas) of a dental patient so that they sleep (or float) their way through the dental work. This is very important to the 30 percent or more of Americans who get completely freaked out by dental visits.
How Does It Work?
There are a few different methods involved with sedation dentistry. In earlier days, the only way a dentist’s office would sedate a patient was through an IV-administered sedative. That’s great if all you fear is the dentist, but terrible if you also fear needles – and many people do. IV sedation is still used today in some cases, but there are other methods of sedation that are more appealing to those who can’t stand needles.
One way to achieve the sedation required for sedation dentistry is nitrous oxide, commonly called “laughing gas.” You might have visions of Steve Martin in Little Shop of Horrors when you think about this method, but administered safely in a dentist’s office, this is a safe, needle-free way to achieve oblivion during your visit.
The most popular form of sedation dentistry involves oral sedation, which is simply the oral administration of a sedative to alleviate the anxiety involved with a dental visit. The only downside to this type of sedation is the possibility that the drug used could interact with something that you’re already taking, or you could have an allergy to it. Make sure you ask your dentist what drug they use – Valium, Halcion, Sonata, Ativan, and Vistaril are the most commonly used – so that you can check with your doctor to make sure it is safe for you to receive that medication.
Thanks to these advances in dental practices, many people are getting the dental care they have previously avoided.