We’re trying to make dental anxiety a thing of the past. And sedation dentistry is one way this goal can come to life. Sedation isn’t just a medication – it’s your entire experience at the office. At Cottrell & Associates, we strive to provide the kind of gentle, communicative care that leaves patients feeling better than ever about dentistry.
If you’ve never tried dental sedation before, learn more about the medications that might be involved before your appointment. You’ll know exactly what to expect, and help reduce anxiety before getting into the dental chair. Your dentist will meet with you and discuss your medical history, current medications, and personal preferences before recommending a form of sedation, but a general guide never hurts. Keep reading for more.
Pro tip: When you receive any form of sedation, you will need to arrange for a ride home from the office (and also to the office, if you take the medication at home prior to your appointment). Set this up with a friend or family member before the treatment date.
Nitrous Oxide aka Laughing Gas
Nitrous is the most popular and longest-available form of dental sedation. It was actually discovered centuries ago, in 1772. The chemist Humphrey Davy tested its effects while attempting to find relief from a toothache and gum infection. He found that inhaling it helped reduce pain and “uneasiness,” and instead brought on a pleasurable feeling.
This still stands today. Nitrous is administered with a mixture of oxygen (usually 70% oxygen to 30% nitrous oxide), which is increased or decreased depending on how the patient is feeling. Patients have a small hood placed over their nose, and are instructed to breathe through it. This is comfortable and easy to do. After 5 minutes or so of breathing in the gas, you will feel a general euphoria (which is why this medication has been dubbed laughing gas). Many patients feel a little silly or start giggling, which is infinitely preferable to feeling terrified and clutching the sides of the dental chair! When your treatment is over, the gas is reduced and the effects wear off shortly afterwards.
Oral Conscious Sedation
Oral conscious sedation works a little differently than nitrous, and has a more intense calming effect. Patients are prescribed a medication that usually belongs to the benzodiazepine family (some examples are Valium, Ativan, and Xanax). These medications help reduce brain activity related to fear/anxiety. Some also induce drowsiness and even memory loss, which is helpful for extremely anxious patients.
Benzodiazepines are central nervous system depressants. This means that the reduce your blood pressure and calm your breathing, placing the body in a safe state of relaxation. There is a longer onset than with nitrous oxide, which is why patients typically take the medication at home before coming to the office. The effects will wear off within a few hours of the appointment.