Do you cringe at the thought of having those pointy metal dental objects in your mouth for a routine dental cleaning? Or what about the thought of having to get your wisdom teeth removed while conscious? You don’t have to live through that! Instead, sleep dentistry is available at most family dentist offices.

What is sedation dentistry? This specialized type of dentistry exists to reduce patient anxiety, worry, or fear of going to the dentist or of certain procedures. A sedation dentist will be able to use sleep dentistry for everything from routine cleanings to an all on 4 procedure. Around 80% of dentists are general practitioners, while 20% are specialized dentists, though sedation dentistry can be practiced by all dentists.

How does it work? A sedation dentist will use medication, such as anesthesia, to help you relax. Note that “sleep dentistry” doesn’t exactly make you go to sleep (although this is one option), but instead will make you feel loopy, or drowsy and calm. Patients are usually awake for their procedures, but they are in blissful happiness.

Why is it used? To help speed up the dental procedure. If patients are awake and moving around, it will take longer for even the best cosmetic dentist to get their job done.

For example, if a patient is suffering from tooth decay (which is four times more common than asthma among teens 14 to 17 years old) and needs their teeth removed, it would be best to opt for sedation dentistry.

Gum disease is also very prevalent among American adults, and if the patient opts for scaling and root planning (which can be painful) they can choose sleep dentistry to help them relax throughout the nonsurgical procedure.

There are four levels of sedation:

  1. Minimal sedation, when you are awake but relaxed
  2. Moderate sedation, when you may slur when speaking and not remember much
  3. Deep sedation, when you are barely conscious and cannot quite remember the procedure
  4. General anesthesia, which is when you are completely unconscious for the entire procedure

Along with these four levels, there are four types of sedation:

  1. Inhaled. A mask will be fitted over your mouth and nose and you will be breathing in nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) mixed with oxygen throughout the procedure. The gas wears off quickly so you can drive yourself home.
  2. Oral. Ranging from minimal to moderate, you will be given a pill — usually Halcion — that is to be taken about an hour before the dental procedure. This pill will make you drowsy, yet you will still be conscious. Increasing the dosage will produce moderate sedation.
  3. IV. This sedative is given intravenously and is effective immediately, as opposed to an oral pill. This type generally gives moderate sedation and the dentist can control the amount throughout the procedure.
  4. Deep/General Anesthesia. A medication is given (usually via IV) that will knock you unconscious within a minute or two and you will not remember the surgery. Recovering from deep sedation can be a bit of a struggle, and you will not be able to drive home after your procedure if this is what you’ve opted for.

When you conduct your dentist search, be sure to ask what types of sleep dentistry they offer, because you don’t want to get stuck with just general anesthesia.