The Basics Of Conscious Sedation For Dental Procedures

About 4-10% of adult Americans experience "dental phobia" when seeing a periodontist. Even patients that do not have dental phobia will dread painful or uncomfortable procedures. Fortunately, periodontists are skilled at bringing their patients into a state of "conscious sedation" to help minimize the anxiety and pain associated with these visits.

What is Conscious Sedation?

A periodontist will place a patient under "conscious sedation" for a variety of procedures, from simple teeth cleanings to outpatient oral surgeries. This is because patients have different pain thresholds, anxiety levels, and gag reflexes, and periodontists perform a wide berth of dental procedures.

Conscious sedation serves two purposes: it relaxes the patient through the use of a sedative drug, and relieves pain during the procedure with an anesthetic.

How Does a Periodontist Administer Conscious Sedation?

The three most common ways that periodontist uses to place a patient under conscious sedation are laughing gas, oral administration, and intravenous insertion. The periodontist's goals and the patient's needs will determine what method is best for that particular procedure. 

Laughing Gas

A periodontist commonly uses nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas," to put a patient under conscious sedation. Within five minutes of breathing the gas, the patient will feel the sedative effects and even euphoria. The amount of gas that the periodontist gives the patient will determine how sedated the patient will become; the smallest amount will result in lightheadedness and tingling, and increased amounts will bring about euphoria and, finally, a sleep-like state.

Periodontists often use laughing gas because it is easy to administer and its effects are short-lasting, so the periodontist can vary the level of sedation that the patient experiences without much difficulty. 

Oral Sedation

A periodontist can also get the patient to conscious sedation by having the patient swallow a pill. The effects of the pill will emerge approximately 30-60 minutes after it is swallowed. Like laughing gas, the amount taken will affect how deeply sedated the patient will become. 

Intravenous Administration

When applied intravenously (inserting an IV into a vein), conscious sedation drugs result in quick, deep relaxation. In many cases, the patient will not even remember the events that occurred while "under" conscious sedation. 

A patient can achieve a much deeper state of conscious sedation through intravenous sedation than through either oral sedation or laughing gas. A periodontist might opt for this method for longer or more painful procedures, or with people that have a heightened gag reflex or anxiety.