Sleep dentistry, or sedation dentistry, is a dental solution designed for patients who dread going to the dentist. Many people feel afraid or uncomfortable when they are placed in vulnerable positions like the dental chair, and may experience dental anxiety as a result. Sleep dentistry is an option for patients who fear dental procedures, fear needles, have difficulty with their gag reflex, have very sensitive teeth, or have difficulty becoming numb from oral injections.
Sleep dentistry offers pain-free and anxiety-free dental procedures as patients are in a deeply relaxed state, though fully responsive. Sleep dentistry also provides an opportunity to perform multiple or lengthy dental procedures in one session, minimizing the number of visits a patient has to make and ultimately reducing the build up of anxiety prior to each dental visit.
Though in extreme cases, or for more complicated procedures, unconscious sedation through general anesthesia may be required, generally sleep dentistry involves conscious sedation. Patients will take prescribed medication about an hour before their scheduled visit and will require someone to drive them to the appointment. The sedative medication usually lasts about six hours, enabling multiple procedures to be completed in one session, if necessary. By the time they’ve arrived, patients will be awake, but drowsy, and anxiety-free. During the procedure, patients aren’t unconscious, but mentally “detached” from what’s going on, and before they know it, the dentist will be telling them the dental procedure is over and they can go home. The sedative effects of the medication last up to 24 hours, so patients will likely need to relax for the rest of the day after their dental procedure(s) and must be sure not to operate a motor vehicle.
Other common types of conscious sedation are inhalation, intravenous, and intramuscular sedation. Inhalation sedation, or nitrous oxide-oxygen, is the most common sedation technique and is also known as laughing gas. Inhalation sedation is a preferable option as patients recover quickly and may leave the dental office alone and immediately resume their normal daily activities. Intravenous conscious sedation is a safe sedation technique and though it is not as readily available as other forms of sedation, it is more effective than administering the same drugs orally. Patients will not remember any of the procedure and will feel as though they were asleep, even though they were wide-awake throughout. When intravenous sedation is used, patients will need to be hooked up to monitoring devices to measure blood pressure, breathing, and heart rate. Patients must have someone escort them when leaving the office after the procedure. Intramuscular sedation involves injecting sedative drugs into the muscle of the upper arm or thigh and is a less common option, typically used in pediatric dentistry.
General anesthesia is required only in extreme cases and requires a trained and certified professional to monitor the patient while the dentist performs the dental procedure(s). In order to perform dental procedures under general anesthetic, dentists must receive at least 2 years of advanced specialized training and are certified by a dental board.
Anxious or phobic patients find that sleep dentistry offers a perfect solution for maintaining good dental health while being in a totally relaxed state. Sleep dentistry ensures that patients experience no pain or anxiety during their dental procedures, and prevents emergencies that could occur as a result of such anxiety, like fainting.