For many people, going to the dentist is one of their greatest fears. This fear can lead to anxiety so pronounced that they may go years without a dental check-up. This, of course, creates the possibility of larger problems developing, which can lead to more involved and expensive dental work in the future. Often, people are not aware that they have options to make their dental appointments more comfortable. Sedation is a great option that can help even the most dental phobic patients have a better, more comfortable experience.

One of the easiest options to make dental work more comfortable is the use of nitrous oxide or “laughing gas.” Nitrous oxide has been used for many years with success to offer a bit of relaxation for a patient receiving dental work. A small cone is placed over the nose and almost immediately the patient can start to feel the effect. It is not a deep level of sedation as some people expect. I often compare it to the relaxation of having a glass of wine or two. It also doesn’t completely put the patient to sleep. The benefits of nitrous oxide are that it is very safe, has few side effects or contraindications, and it can be reversed in a matter of seconds by giving the patient pure oxygen. After nitrous oxide, the patient is still able to drive themselves home safely. It is a great option for the patient that has a mild dental anxiety and just needs minor sedation to feel comfortable.

The next level of sedation is called oral conscious sedation. This will provide a deeper level of sedation than nitrous oxide. Medications called benzodiazepines are used to provide this sedation. Common medications in this class are Valium, Triazolam, and Xanax. The benefits of this level of sedation is that the patient is less aware of their surroundings and are often more comfortable, leading to less stress and anxiety. These medications are very safe as well to use, and an added benefit is that some even lead to a level of amnesia, so often patients remember less of their dental appointment. Because this level of sedation is a little stronger, the patient must have a ride home from the appointment.

The deepest level of sedation routinely offered in the dental setting is IV sedation. This is often done in conjunction with an oral surgeon or anesthesiologist. An IV is placed and medication delivered that sedates the patient enough that they will remember nothing of the appointment. It is still very safe and the most comfortable way to be sedated. Often times it is used for more involved procedures like wisdom teeth extractions or dental implants, but it can be used for less involved procedures as well, particularly for those who are severely dental phobic.

Although dental anxiety is a serious problem for many people, letting this fear stop someone from going to the dentist can lead to serious issues. It’s important to know that sedation is a great option for those that have dental anxiety whether it is mild, moderate, or severe. Dental work can be done in a completely stress-free and comfortable setting. Good dental experiences will lead to having more consistent check-ups and therefore a happy, healthy mouth.

Dr. Nick is with Palm Desert Smiles and can be reached at (760) 568.3602.

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