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BY: Dr. Stephen Persichetti
With IV dental sedation, you can literally sleep through your dental work. But that level of sedation is usually saved for more involved oral surgery (like having several wisdom teeth removed). It’s expensive, it involves constant patient monitoring and it requires several hours of recovery time. You’ll also need to have someone escort you home and care for you.
For most people who suffer from anxiety at the dentist’s office, I recommend starting with the simplest form of sedation: nitrous oxide. You just inhale a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen through a mask, which relaxes you and takes the edge off. It doesn’t put you to sleep, and you can still swallow and communicate. You’ll need a local anesthetic (like lignocaine) to numb the pain involved with any oral procedures, but because of the nitrous oxide, you’re unlikely to stress over an injection. This method is very safe, and when your procedure is done, the dentist will simply shut off the nitrous oxide, you’ll take a couple of deep breaths of pure oxygen, and the sedative effect will be gone. There’s no recovery time, and you’ll be able to drive yourself home.
If that’s not enough to help your anxiety, you could try oral dental sedation. The dentist will prescribe an antianxiety medication (like Valium) to be taken the night before and right before your appointment. During the appointment, you’ll be awake, but the medication will make you feel very loose and relaxed. The dental team will monitor you very carefully during the appointment, checking your vital signs frequently. After the appointment, however, your mental acuity and reflexes will diminish for several hours, so you’ll need someone to escort you home.
The real key to handling dental anxiety is finding a dentist you trust and feel comfortable with. And if you do choose some form of sedation, make sure you’re with a well-qualified dentist. You want someone who is trained in sedation, who does it all the time and who has a well-trained team to help monitor you. If your current dentist doesn’t offer sedation, ask for referrals.
Dr. Stephen Persichetti is a dental surgeon, family dentist and associate professor of dentistry.
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