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-like state 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 given anesthesia or sedation to relax them in order to safely complete some dental procedures. Here are some questions to ask your dentist before your child undergoes any type of anesthesia.

Local anesthesia is a type of medication 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 before injecting a 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. Medicines used to relieve pain 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 acetaminophen and non-steroidal, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and asprin. Narcotic analgesics, such as opioids, act on receptors in the brain to relieve pain. 

Be sure to talk with your dentist about how to properly secure and dispose of any unused, unwanted or expired medications. 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. Sedatives can be administered before or during dental procedures. Sedation may involve gases that ar inhaled, pills that ar taken or medicine which is injected. More complex treatments may require deeper sedation to relieve both pain and anxiety. On occasion, general anesthesia may be used to cause a temporary loss of consciousness.

Dentists treat millions of patients, including managing their pain and anxiety, safely every year. 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.

Last updated May 31, 2019.