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Anesthesia and Sedation

Several medications are available to help create more relaxed, comfortable dental visits. Some drugs control pain, some help you relax, and others put you into a deep sleep during dental treatment. You and your dentist can discuss a number of factors when deciding which drugs to use for your treatment. The type of procedure, your overall health, history of allergies and your anxiety level are considered when determining which approach is best for your particular case.

Your dentist might recommend that your child be administered anesthesia or sedation to relax them in order to safely complete some dental procedures. Here are some questions (PDF) to ask your dentist before your child undergoes any type of anesthesia.

Local anesthesia is a type of anesthetic used to prevent pain in a specific area of your mouth during treatment by blocking the nerves that sense or transmit pain, which numbs mouth tissues. Your dentist may apply a topical anesthetic to numb an area in preparation for administering an injectable local anesthetic. Topical anesthetics also may be used to soothe painful mouth sores. Injectable anesthetics may be used in such procedures as filling cavities, preparing teeth for crowns or treating gum disease.

Depending on the procedure, you may need a pain reliever after treatment. Analgesics are used to relieve pain and can be broken into two groups: non-narcotic and narcotic. Non-narcotic are the most commonly used drugs for relief of toothache or pain following dental treatment. They include aspirin, acetaminophen and non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen. Narcotic analgesics, such as opioids, act on the central nervous system to relieve pain. They are used for more severe pain.

Be sure to talk with your dentist about how to properly secure and dispose of any unused, unwanted or expired medications, especially if there are any children in the household. Also, take the time to talk with your children about the dangers of using prescription drugs for non-medical purposes.

For some dental visits, your dentist may use a sedative, which can induce moderate sedation. Sedatives can be administered before or during dental procedures. Sedation methods include inhalation (using nitrous oxide), oral (by taking a pill) and intravenous (by injection). More complex treatments may require drugs that can induce deep sedation, reducing consciousness in order to relieve both pain and anxiety. On occasion, general anesthesia can be used, in which drugs cause a temporary loss of consciousness.

Dentists use the pain and anxiety control techniques mentioned above to treat millions of patients safely every year. Even so, taking any medication involves a certain amount of risk. That's why the ADA urges you to take an active role in your oral health care. This means understanding the risks and benefits involved in dental treatment, so that you and your dentist can make the best decisions about the treatment that is right for you. Working together, you and your dentist can choose the appropriate steps to make your dental visit as safe and comfortable as possible, and to help you keep a healthy smile.