Does the thought of going to the dentist with a toothache make you anxious? Does the sound of the dental drill make you numb with fear? If you feel this way, you're not alone. Many people develop this fear of dentists early on – even as early as childhood – and never seem to shake it off. This is also why some people avoid going to the dentist except when absolutely necessary.
If you still tremble in fear at the thought of going to your dentist, you could benefit from sleep dentistry. Sleep dentistry, otherwise known as ‘sedation dentistry’, is a dental practice recommended for people who are afraid of going to a dental clinic or experience anxiety when at the dentist. It is also appropriate for patients who feel pain during a procedure even after being given a local anaesthetic.
Although it’s called sleep dentistry, sedation dentistry is the more precise term because, depending on the state of sedation, the patient may not be completely asleep. What happens is that the dentist applies certain levels of sedation to help the patient relax throughout the procedure.
Levels of sedation used
The level of sedation used by the dentist depends on the severity of the patient’s fear.
- Minimal or mild sedation: Here, the patient is awake but relaxed or possibly drowsy. The dentist may use nitrous oxide (‘happy gas’) or a pill to induce sedation.
- Moderate sedation: Also called ‘twilight sleep’ or ‘conscious sedation’, this is recommended for people experiencing higher levels of anxiety. The sedative is usually administered through an IV. The patient may slur when speaking and be unable to recall much of the procedure. Dentists performing IV sedation need to have a Certified Dental Board Sedation Practice.
- Deep sedation: With this level of sedation, the patient is likely to be asleep or in what is called a state of drug-induced decline of consciousness from which they cannot easily be awakened. However, at this state, the patient may still be able to respond to sharp touching or being poked. Once the sedation wears off, the patient is unlikely to remember most of what happened.
- General anaesthesia: At this level of sedation, the patient is already in a state of deep sleep. The patient won’t be able to respond to touch or any commands. They won’t have any recollection of the procedure either.
Sedation dentistry is generally used in root canals, extractions, fillings, dental implants and major dental procedures.
Relaxing at the dentist
If you find it hard to conquer your fear of being at the dentist yet need to undergo a dental procedure, you need to be upfront with your dentist. This way, they can advise you on whether sedation dentistry is a good option.
Whatever your decision, the most important thing is for you to get the treatment you need.