Dental visit anxiety is a serious problem: Half of all Americans admit to some level of dental fear, while 15% avoid dental care altogether due to acute anxiety. The harm this can cause to dental health is incalculable.
But dentists have a number of sedation techniques that can relax anxious patients and allow them to receive the care they need. Although often used together, sedation is slightly different from anesthesia, which aims to deaden pain sensation. The aim of sedation is to calm the emotions and state of mind.
Sedation isn't a new approach: Physicians have used substances like root herbs or alcohol to relieve anxiety since ancient times. Modern dentistry also has a long history with sedation, dating from the early 1800s with the first use of nitrous oxide gas.
Modern dental sedation has expanded into an array of drugs and techniques to match varying levels of anxiety intensity. At the milder end of the scale are oral sedatives, taken an hour or so before a dental appointment to produce a calmer state. This may be enough for some patients, or it can be used in conjunction with nitrous oxide.
For those with more intense anxiety, dentists can turn to intravenous (IV) sedation. In this case, the sedative is delivered directly into the bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted in a vein. This causes a quicker and deeper reaction than oral sedatives.
Although similar to general anesthesia, IV sedation does differ in significant ways. Rather than unconsciousness, IV sedation places a patient in a “semi-awake” state that may still allow them respond to verbal commands. And although the patient's vital signs (heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, etc.) must be monitored, the patient doesn't need breathing assistance as with anesthesia.
There's one other benefit: The drugs used often have an amnesic effect, meaning the patient won't remember the treatment experience after recovery. This can be helpful in creating more pleasant memories of their dental experience, which could have its own sedative effect in the future.
Whether oral, gas or IV, sedatives are a safe and effective way to calm dental fears during treatment. That could help someone with anxiety maintain their oral health.
If you would like more information on reducing dental anxiety, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
Most dental procedures today only require local anesthesia to numb just the affected area. It's a safer approach than general anesthesia: the unconscious state created by putting someone "to sleep" can lead to some unpleasant complications.
But patient comfort involves more than preventing physical pain during a procedure. There's also the emotional factor—many people experience nervousness, anxiety or fear during dental visits. It's especially problematic for an estimated 15% of the population whose dental visit anxiety is so great they often try to avoid dental care altogether.
One option is to use general anesthesia for patients with acute anxiety rather than local anesthesia. This removes them consciously from their anxiety, but they must then be monitored closely for complications.
But there's a safer way to relax patients with high anxiety called intravenous or IV sedation. The method delivers a sedative medication directly into a patient's bloodstream through a small needle or catheter inserted into a vein. The sedative places the patient in a relaxed "semi-awake" state, taking the edge off their anxiety while still enabling them to respond to verbal commands.
Coupled with local anesthesia, they won't experience any pain and very little if any discomfort. And many of the sedatives used also have an amnesiac effect so that the patient won't remember the procedures being performed.
IV sedation does require monitoring of vital signs, but the patient won't need help maintaining their breathing or heart function. And although the medication can be adjusted to reduce any lingering after-effects, a patient will still need someone to accompany them to and from their visit.
For lesser anxiety or nervousness, dentists sometimes prescribe an oral sedative to take just before a visit. This can help take the edge off your nerves and help you relax. With either method, though, sedation can help you overcome fear and anxiety and have a more pleasant treatment experience.
If you would like more information on IV sedation, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
Although dental visits are routine for most people, it’s a different experience for a few. About one in ten adults have high anxiety or fear of going to the dentist and may avoid it altogether—even when they have an acute situation.
If you’re one of those with dental visit anxiety there’s good news—we may be able to help you relax and have a more positive experience. Here are 3 things you need to know about reducing your anxiety at the dental office.
It starts with the dentist. While every patient deserves a compassionate, understanding dentist, it’s especially so if you suffer from dental visit anxiety. Having someone who will listen to your concerns in a non-judgmental way is the first step toward feeling more comfortable in the dentist’s chair. It also takes a sensitive practitioner to work with you on the best strategy for relaxation.
Relaxation often begins before your visit. There are various degrees of sedation (which isn’t the same as anesthesia—those methods block pain) depending on your level of anxiety. If you experience mild to moderate nervousness, an oral sedative an hour or so before your appointment could take the edge off and help you relax. Oral sedatives are also mild enough for use with other forms of sedation like nitrous oxide gas, and with local anesthesia.
High anxiety may require deeper sedation. If your level of anxiety is greater, however, we may recommend IV sedation to induce a much more relaxed state. The sedation drugs are delivered directly into your blood stream through a small needle inserted into a vein. Although you’re not unconscious as with general anesthesia, we can place you into a “semi-awake” state of reduced anxiety. The drugs used may also have an amnesiac effect so you won’t remember details about the procedure. This can help reinforce positive feelings about your visit and help reduce future anxiety.
If you’re anxious about dental visits, make an appointment with us to discuss your concerns. We’re sure we can work out a strategy to reduce your anxiety so you can receive the dental care you need.
If you would like more information on sedation therapy, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
Visiting the dentist for cleanings, checkups and needed dental work is one of the pillars of dental health, along with daily hygiene and a nutritious diet. But an estimated 50% of people have some form of anxiety about dental visits — and around 15% actually avoid care because of it.
If you feel nervous about dental visits, there are ways to reduce your anxiety. First and foremost is to find a compassionate provider you trust and feel comfortable around, who listens non-judgmentally to your concerns.
But that's only the beginning: depending on your degree of anxiety, you could require more help to relax through sedation medication. The drugs and methods used can induce various degrees of consciousness ranging from mild relaxation to more sleep-like states.
The most basic is oral sedation. Typically, this involves taking the medication by mouth about an hour before an appointment. You can take it by itself to increase relaxation or along with other forms of sedation (like inhaling nitrous oxide gas) or local anesthesia.
Beyond inhalation, a higher level of sedation involves injecting the medication into the blood stream through an intravenous (IV) drip. This induces a deeper “semi-awake” level of consciousness, but differs from general anesthesia, which places a patient into unconsciousness to block pain during a major procedure. With IV sedation you may still be able to respond to verbal commands or touch; and although you're monitored for vital signs you won't need medical assistance to maintain breathing and heart function.
With today's advanced sedation drugs and methods, we can control dosages to achieve just the right level of sedation, as well as reduce the amount of time the drug may affect you afterward in recovery. Many drugs also have an amnesiac effect so that you'll remember little if any about the procedure afterward.
Whether by mouth, inhalation or with an IV, sedation therapy can make a difference no matter what your level of anxiety. And if your dental visits continue to be comfortable and pleasant ones, you're more likely to receive the care you need to keep your teeth and gums healthy.
If you would like more information on sedation methods during dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “IV Sedation in Dentistry.”
We always look forward to seeing our patients, but not all of you look forward to seeing us! If you’re one of them, don’t worry — we don’t take it personally. Dental anxiety prevents many people from seeking the care they require to restore or maintain a healthy smile.
But if dental problems are allowed to progress, they can affect not only the beauty of your smile and health of your mouth, but your overall wellness, too. Infection can travel from the mouth to other areas of the body, and dental disease exacerbates chronic health conditions like heart disease or diabetes.
Fear should never be an obstacle (in the immortal words of President Franklin Roosevelt, “…the only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”). And fortunately there are some safe options for those of us who can’t get past our anxiety when it comes to dental care:
Oral Sedation. A sedative medication can be prescribed that you take by mouth approximately an hour before your dental visit to minimize anxiety and promote relaxation.
Intravenous (IV; “intra” – inside, “venous” – vein) Sedation. If oral sedation isn’t entirely effective in facilitating treatment, then a medication combining a sedative for relaxation and a pain-blocking anesthetic can be delivered through or small needle or catheter that is gently inserted into a vein. This is referred to as “conscious sedation” because you are in a semi-awake state during which you are able to respond to verbal direction. It takes effect quickly, and you can come out of it quickly. However, you may not remember much about your procedure. It is very different from general anesthesia during which you are completely unconscious.
Dentists who offer IV sedation receive extensive training after which we must pass an exam and apply for a special permit that we maintain through continuing education. We carefully screen patients for eligibility and monitor you throughout so you can rest easy before, during, and after your procedure.
If you would like more information about sedation in dental care, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about the subject by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Oral Sedation Dentistry.”