Dental Sedation Explained

Dental sedation covers a wide range of techniques used to calm and relax patients before and during a dental procedure. It can be a lifesaver for those who are so phobic about going to the dentist they refuse to even schedule an appointment.


Before receiving sedation, patients should disclose their full medical history and list all medications they are taking. Then, a dentist can determine which type of sedation is most appropriate for their patient.

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is a safe dental sedation treatment for patients with mild anxiety. It is inhaled through a mask over your nose, and the calming effects start working within three to five minutes. The sedative changes your brain chemistry, lowering levels of certain neurotransmitters and inhibiting pain signals from reaching the brain.

This allows dentists to work more efficiently without worrying about the patient’s discomfort, and it reduces stress and fatigue for the staff. Additionally, nitrous oxide is safe for young patients and the elderly. It has fewer contraindications than deeper sedatives, so it’s used in most dental offices on a daily basis.

Unlike most IV and oral sedatives, nitrous oxide does not make you sleepy. You will still be awake, but you will feel less anxious about your appointment and will probably giggle a few times during the procedure. The sedative wears off quickly, and most dentists will put you on 100% oxygen for a few minutes after the procedure to flush the gas from your system.

Because of its rapid action, nitrous oxide can be administered in smaller doses over a shorter period of time. That means that dentists can increase or decrease the dosage as needed. This is important, especially for younger patients and the elderly, as it reduces the likelihood of complications like respiratory depression.

Oral sedation

If you have a mild case of dental anxiety, oral sedation is often recommended as an effective treatment. This form of sedation is given in the form of a pill that you should take about an hour before your appointment begins. It causes you to feel drowsy and relaxed. However, you are still conscious and can respond to instructions from your dentist.

It is important that you line up a friend or family member who will be willing to drive you to and from the dental clinic before your sedation procedure begins. The effects of this type of sedation can last up to a few hours, which means that you should not be driving or engaging in any other dangerous activities until it wears off.

A common option for moderate sedation is triazolam (Halcion), which provides anxiolytic, hypnotic and amnesic properties. It also acts quickly and has a short half-life, which helps to reduce residual side effects when you wake up.

Another common option is ketamine, which creates a brief period of amnesia and is best used for short procedures that can be completed in one session. It works within a minute of being injected into your vein and typically is combined with anesthetics when it’s used for sedation dentistry.

Intravenous sedation

This is a powerful form of sedation that is sometimes used to help patients with severe dental anxiety. It can also be useful for those who are undergoing lengthy or complex procedures such as tooth extractions or implant replacement. It is very similar to general anaesthetic, but it is much milder. You will still be able to breathe unassisted but will be in an induced state of deep relaxation. When you ‘wake up’, you will feel as though nothing has happened and you will have no memory of the smells or noises of the treatment.

IV sedation works quickly and is usually given in the form of a pill. It is taken an hour before your appointment and can create a light or moderate drowsiness. You will be awake but in a semi-conscious state and your dentist can adjust the dosage as required.

If you choose this form of sedation, it is important that someone else drives you home after the appointment as you will be too drowsy to drive safely. You should also avoid strenuous activities and take only the medications that are prescribed to you by your dentist. It is important to tell your dental practitioner of any allergies, medical conditions and other health concerns you may have. Only dentists and dental specialists with an endorsement for conscious sedation can administer this type of sedation.


Dental sedation is useful for a wide range of procedures. Whether you need a filling or wisdom tooth removal, sedation can help make the procedure more comfortable. Besides reducing anxiety and pain, it also allows dentists to work faster. This enables them to complete the treatment in less time, and prevents patients from squirming on the chair. Sedation is also effective in preventing a patient’s gag reflex.

Minimal sedation can be administered in the form of anti-anxiety medication taken at home before going to the dentist or via nitrous oxide. With this option, you’ll remain awake and able to respond to the dentist, but you will feel calm. This type of sedation is usually the least expensive.

Oral sedation is typically administered with a pill, and it may cause you to feel sleepy or fall asleep during the procedure. Your dentist will provide you with explicit instructions about the use of this drug before your appointment. It is important that you follow the recommendations, including avoiding eating and drinking six to eight hours before the sedation. You should also line up a ride to and from the dental office, as the effects of oral sedation can take a few hours to wear off. Also, let your dentist know if you have any medical conditions or medications that could interfere with the effectiveness of this sedation method.