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Oral Sedation in Dental Procedures

Sedative, often in pill form, taken before an appointment to relieve a patient’s anxiety and fear.

Oral sedation is a form of conscious sedation used in dentistry to keep patients calm, comfortable, and relaxed during dental work, and to relax the gag reflex. It works particularly well for patients with anxiety or with fears associated with dentistry.

Oral Dental Sedation

Oral sedation is a conscious sedation technique. Patients will typically be responsive and may be able to follow directions from the dentist during the procedure. However, oral sedation will deeply relax the patient, reducing anxiety and pain responses.

You may wish to have oral sedation if:

  • You experience anxiety or fear when visiting the dentist
  • You have had a negative dental experience in the past
  • You need a significant amount of dental work completed in a single visit
  • You have difficulty sitting still throughout a dental procedure
  • You have a severe gag reflex
  • You have a child who needs an invasive dental procedure completed and does not respond well to other behavioural techniques

How Oral Sedation Works

Oral sedation offers a very simple way to deliver a sedative to a dentistry patient. In most cases, your dentist will give you sedative drugs in an oral pill form (or as a liquid). You may be given the pills to take home and be instructed to take them before you arrive for your appointment, or you may receive them once you arrive at the dental office. Sometimes, your dentist may prescribe an additional pill to be taken at night, which can ward off anxiety-related insomnia.

The medication you receive may include any of the following:

  • Lorazepam (Ativan)
  • Diazepam (Valium)
  • Triazolam (Halcion)
  • Idazolam (Versed)
  • Zolpidem (Ambien)
  • Zaleplon (Sonata)

The type of drug that is administered and the dosage will determine how long the sedation effects last (usually anywhere from 2-8 hours). Your dentist will determine which type of drug is best suited for you based on the type of procedure, the level of invasiveness, the duration of the treatment, and any general health concerns. Be sure to share your medical history with your dentist, including any medical conditions or allergies.

Sedation can be administered at different levels to achieve different effects. In most cases, oral sedation is used for minimal to moderate sedation.

Minimal sedation does not impair normal functions such as breathing, cardiovascular activity, or responses to verbal commands. However, physical and cognitive functions may be slightly impaired.

Moderate sedation is a state of depressed consciousness in which the patient can often respond slowly to verbal and tactile cues. Breathing and cardiovascular functions are not impacted.

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Other Forms of Sedation Dentistry

There are several types of sedation dentists use for their patients, including nitrous oxide (“laughing gas”) and IV sedation. Depending on the level of sedation needed, IV sedation may be recommended over oral sedation to provide a deeper level of sedation. It’s important to review the options with your dentist.

Learn More About Sedation Dentistry

Oral Sedative Dentistry FAQ

What does sedation feel like?

Sedation effects are often described by patients as relaxation, euphoria, and drowsiness. You will not be unconscious, but many patients do not remember the dental procedure they’ve undergone after having sedation.

Oral sedation may last several hours after your procedure, which is why you will most likely be directed to arrange a ride home from the dental clinic. All of your bodily functions will remain unimpaired, including your breathing, throughout sedation.

What is the difference between conscious sedation and anesthesia?

The main difference between sedation and general anesthesia is the level of consciousness patients experience. In general anesthesia, a patient is “put under” or fully unconscious. This is typically reserved for patients undergoing lengthy treatments, extremely invasive treatments, or multiple treatments at once. Meanwhile, sedation leaves a patient conscious or semi-conscious, though very relaxed and drowsy.

Can children be sedated?

Sedatives are used in pediatric dentistry as a way to ensure that children remain calm and motionless during dental procedures that are necessary for their oral health. The type of sedation given depends on the specific circumstances, including the age of the patient and any fears or anxieties. If a child cannot swallow a pill

What are the side effects?

Common side effects of oral sedation may include nausea, a lack of motor control, and sleepiness after the dental procedure. You may also experience high blood pressure or an elevated heart rate. Most of these side effects will clear up within a few hours. If you notice any unusual symptoms such as difficulty breathing, be sure to seek medical attention.

Who administers oral sedation?

A dentist or a dentist anesthesiologist will provide oral sedation. Not all dental clinics offer oral sedation or other forms of sedation, so be sure to ask your dentist about the options available.

Find a Dental Clinic Near You

If you’d like to know more about sedation dentistry and oral sedation options in your area, search the 123Dentist network for a dentist in your community. Our dentists across Canada can help you decide if sedation dentistryis right for you.

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