Over the past couple of decades, medical and dental pain management advancements have made significant strides. Thankfully we no longer live in a time we will ever hear a dentist tell a patient to “have another shot of whisky!” to help dull the pain, which used to be a common phrase not that long ago. Today, our dentists and surgeons have a variety of safe and effective sedation options for the comfort of both patients and dentists.
The most common forms of sedation include gas, pills, IV and deep sedation. Gas sedation uses nitrous oxide and oxygen to make laughing gas, which is a very fun yet effective way to help patients relax and be immune to pain. Sedation via pills can take up to an hour to take effect, but they can create different sensations including a range from a mild relaxation to a deep sleep. The IV is one of the preferential methods because it goes directly to your blood stream and dosage can be adjusted and monitored more easily than other methods.
The type of surgery you’re scheduled for depends on the type of sedation you will receive. The types of sedation include local, general, regional anesthetics – or a cocktail of two or more. A local is an anesthetic delivered to a certain area of the body, usually the gums for oral surgery, dental implant procedure, or a root canal. A local sedation will require you to stay awake, but it will significantly dull or eliminate the pain completely. If you are more on the anxious side, you can talk to your dentist about other methods that don’t require you to remain awake or will help you become less nervous.
General anesthesia is typically used for more serious oral surgeries or if the patient is extremely nervous to the point it negatively impacts how well the dentist can do their job. General anesthesia is delivered intravenously or inhaled via a mask that is placed over your mouth and nose, and will leave you unaware and unconscious while the surgery is being done. The IV is a popular way of delivering the anesthesia because the amount of sedative can continually be increased (at safe levels) if it seems the patient is experiencing pain, or if the sedative is wearing off. Both IV and mask work instantaneously and will put the patient into a deep sleep, and both methods are a perfect solution for those too scared to be awake during dental procedures, even minor ones.
Regional anesthesia is used to completely eliminate pain in larger areas than local, but it does not put you to sleep. Think of an epidural that is given to women during childbirth; it completely numbs a large area but leaves the mom completely aware of what is going on. Dentists commonly use a nerve block as method of regional anesthesia because it numbs the extremities, including the face but leaves the patient conscious.
We have undoubtedly come a long way from taking shots of whiskey before and during surgery, but one thing remains the same: people hate pain and will avoid it if at all possible. I’m a firm believer that in some instances, like going to the dentist, ignorance is bliss. The less you feel and experience the better off you’ll be.