Sedation Dentistry

The term refers to the use of sedatives  to calm and relax a patient prior to and during a dental appointment.

People remain aware of their surroundings, but are less responsive to external stimuli like the sound of the drill or the smell of materials. This also reduces their sense of pain.

Sedatives date back thousands of years. Pain management is as old as medicine, and other ancient forms include alcohol, the mandrake root and opium poppies. The modern age of sedative medication began in the 1800s with the creation of bromides and chloral hydrate.

Current medications are often more powerful and less likely to carry unpleasant side effects, but all medications differ, and there is no one medication that is suitable for every patient. Some of the drugs take action quickly but rapidly fade in potency, while others last for hours.

It is a form of dentistry that has become very popular because if offers a number of benefits for both the patient and the dentist.

The benefits

The main aim of dental sedation is to relax the patient, and this has a beneficial knock-on effect in that the patient experiences increased comfort and gives greater co-operation; there is control of the gag reflex; movement control in greatly improved; the patient can have little or no memory of the treatment.

It is also time-saving process because fewer appointment are required. Sedation dentists can often perform a number of procedures in a single appointment, without sacrificing either patient safety or clinical quality. Many people with hectic schedules find it very beneficial to receive necessary treatments in as little as one dental visit instead of several visits.

For some patients, who are extremely nervous about visiting the dentist, the use of sedation dentistry is actually the only way that they can get the dental care they need and improve their dental health.

If you are extremely nervous you could ask your dentist to refer you to an NHS sedation clinic.

Types of sedation

Some people find simple inhalation sedation is the best way to help them relax tin order to receive dental treatment. This is a bit like gas and air given during childbirth, but instead of it being delivered through a mask it comes through a nosepiece.

Those of an extremely nervous disposition usually prefer intravenous sedation, which is by way of an injection into your hand or arm during treatment. This way the patient remains awake, aware of what is going on, and can talk to the dentist, but at the same time they are much more calm and relaxed, so much so that they will probably not be able to remember much of what went on.

With oral sedation you simply swallow a small pill an hour or so before treatment which makes you drowsy and relaxed and it works well for most people.

As oral sedatives have no pain-relieving qualities, local anaesthetics are used to prevent pain. Therefore, because you are so relaxed, and because of the use of painless injection techniques, you will probably not remember when your mouth was actually being numbed.

When your treatment is complete and you have been driven home you will be fully awake, you will feel comfortable and relaxed and stress free. In fact, it is likely that you will remember very little about your appointment.

Bear in mind, however, that you should not drive for 24 hours after receiving oral sedation.

Are there any side effects?

It is true that with some of the more powerful sedatives, such as barbiturates, there is the possibility of addiction and a variety of side effects, but this is not the case with those drugs used in sedation dentistry. These are not addictive and carry only a few, usually minor, side effects.

There must always be an element of caution, however, because patients react differently, and this is why there must be a detailed consultation with the dentist prior to the treatment, when you will be asked a series of questions about your health and any prescriptions you may be taking. This will help minimise any problems there might be.