Cosmetic Dentistry Technology Dental Sedation

If you are one of the millions of adults or children who suffer from a fear of dental procedures or anxiety about visiting the dentist, then sedation dentistry may be a good option for you. Sedation dentistry, which is often recommended for patients with severe dental phobia, is a behavior management technique that allows many patients to receive routine dental care they would not otherwise be able to receive.

Sedation dentistry involves sedative drugs to induce a relaxed state of consciousness. Sedation dentistry should not be confused with sleep dentistry, a procedure that uses general anesthesia (GA) and leaves the patient totally unconscious.

How Sedation Dentistry Works

In sedation dentistry, the patient is awake and can respond to verbal requests from the dental professional. However, the patient is “out of it” and remembers little, if anything at all, about the procedure. To induce this state, the dental professional administers sedative drugs, such as:

  • anxiolytics
  • depressants
  • sleeping pills
  • tranquilizers.

These drugs can be taken by inhalation, orally or intravenously (IV). Although the patient is awake, this procedure has been mistakenly called “sleep dentistry” because the patients may feel sleepy from the drugs.

Most children are cooperative with dental procedures, but some children, especially very young and very fearful children, need sedation dentistry to have dental work performed. Pediatric sedation drugs used in conscious sedation, the most common procedure, include meperidine, midazolam, ketamine and chloral hydrate. Similar to adults undergoing sedation dentistry, children can keep their eyes open and respond to verbal requests from the dental professional.

Sedation Dentistry versus Sleep Dentistry

In most cases, patients with severe dental phobia experience good results with sedation dentistry. However, in rare instances (and usually as a last resort), sleep dentistry is required.

There are many risks involved with sleep dentistry, including risk of death, so this procedure is not common. With sleep dentistry, the patient can’t breathe on his or her own and requires a breathing tube. Other downsides of sleep dentistry include that:

  • complications are much more likely
  • it does not help patients overcome their dental anxieties
  • it is expensive.

Because of these complications, sleep dentistry is not recommended for routine dental work.

Pros of Sedation Dentistry

Sedation dentistry may be right for you if your fear is of the procedure itself and not the dental professional.

Sedation dentistry can:

  • allow people to undergo complex procedures in a single visit or two, rather than in multiple visits
  • allow people with severe dental phobias to have needed dental procedures they might not otherwise be able to have
  • help patients relax
  • make the procedure seem much shorter than it actually isa procedure that takes hours can seem like it only took minutes
  • reduce or eliminate your memory of the visit.

Cons of Sedation Dentistry

Sedation is not recommended for people who have a fear of dental professionals or for people who need to be in control of situations.

You should not choose sedation dentistry if:

  • you are worried about the cost and accessibility of the procedure. Sedation dentistry can be expensive and not widely available. It can also limit your options for dentists
  • you do not condone the use of psychoactive drugs
  • you prefer to have the dental professional work at a slower pace
  • you take other medication that may complicate the effects of the sedative drugs
  • you want to eventually overcome your dental phobia.


Dental Fear Center (n.d.). Overcoming Fears 2A1Sedation Dentistry. Retrieved April 11, 2008, from the Dental Fear Center Web site.

Pediatric Dental Health (n.d.). Sedation of Children for Dental Procedures. Retrieved April 11, 2008, from the Pediatric Dental Health Web site.

Ranft, Lesley (2008). Sedation Dentistry. Retrieved April 11, 2008, from the Consumer Guide to Dentistry Web site.