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How Safe Is Dental Sedation: All You Need to Know

Visiting the dentist can be a source of anxiety and fear for many people.

Even routine procedures such as teeth cleaning and filling replacement can cause stress, let alone complex procedures such as wisdom tooth removal. 

Luckily, dentistry has come a long way over the years and has developed sedation techniques to alleviate the pain and stress of dental procedures. Nevertheless, many people still fear using sedation, questioning its safety and efficacy.

In this article, we want to discuss what dentistry sedation is, why it is safe, and its risks. 

What Is Dental Sedation?

Sedation is a technique typically used in dentistry to help patients relax, manage anxiety, and reduce discomfort during dental procedures.

Such medications increase the patient’s pain threshold, make them less “twitchy,” and can even reduce their gag reflex. Several levels of sedation are available depending on the patient’s needs and the complexity of the procedure.

Levels of Sedation 

The common misconception is that dental sedation causes sleepiness, and you can just sleep through the procedure. This increases the anxiety people feel before sedation.

However, this is only the case for some treatments. 

In fact, sedation has several levels, and you only get to sleep during general anesthesia, which is the deepest level there is.

Choosing the specific sedation method depends on the dental procedure and the patient’s level of anxiety.

Minimal Sedation

The first and most “shallow” sedation level only relaxes the patients during the procedure and wears off afterward, so they can even drive themselves home. It is usually administered by inhaling nitrous oxide (or “laughing gas”) through a mask placed over the nose.

Nitrous oxide reduces patients’ anxiety during the dental procedure while keeping them totally conscious.

Minimal sedation can also be administered orally. This implies taking pills about an hour before the procedure and can range from mild to moderate sedation, depending on the dosage.

Moderate or “Conscious” Sedation

The next level of sedation is used for more complex procedures or patients with severe anxiety.

This type of sedation is administered through a vein and puts patients into deep relaxation. While patients can still respond to the dentist’s instructions, they will need someone to drive them home after the procedure.

It can also be given orally in some cases, for example, if the patient has a fear of needles.

Deep Sedation

Deep sedation is a more profound level of sedation but does not reach the level of general anesthesia.

The patient is in a state of decreased consciousness but can respond to repeated or painful stimuli. The patient maintains some reflexes, such as coughing or swallowing.

Deep sedation may be used in specific complex procedures that may cause significant pain or discomfort, such as root canals or oral surgery. It is always administered intravenously.

General Anesthesia

Finally, general anesthesia is the deepest form of sedation and is usually reserved for complex procedures.

General anesthesia puts patients into a deep sleep, and they are completely unconscious during the procedure. Afterward, patients will need some time to come to their senses.

Moreover, a period of close monitoring by a medical professional is usually recommended. 

Is the Procedure Safe?

Like any medical procedure, sedation does carry some risks. When administered in accordance with medical guidelines by a trained professional and tailored to meet the specific needs of the patient, it can be considered safe.

Patients who receive minimal and moderate oral sedation typically experience minimal risk and side effects since they remain conscious and cognizant of their surroundings.

Deep sedation and general anesthesia have more potential risks, but they are mitigated by strict safety protocols.

Who Performs Dental Sedation

All types of dental sedation can only be administered by licensed dentists who have received specific training in sedation techniques and have the necessary credentials to do so such as a license, a moderate sedation certification, etc. 

Sometimes, sedation may be administered by a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) or an anesthesiologist working in conjunction with the dentist.

These anesthesia providers have specialized training in sedation and can provide deeper levels of sedation or general anesthesia, depending on the patient’s needs.

This is primarily true for general anesthesia, which is rarely used in dentistry.

Potential Risks of Dental Sedation 

In most cases, dental sedation is not risky due to the strict guidelines used during the procedure. However, some potential side effects can include nausea, vomiting, headache, and drowsiness.

In sporadic cases, sedation can lead to such complications as respiratory depression, cardiovascular problems, or allergic reactions.

Such cases mostly happen if patients have special needs or conditions that were neglected during the pre-procedure exam.

Sedation Dentistry Risks During Pregnancy

Generally, dental sedation is safe for the mother and baby. However, it is not recommended during the first trimester of pregnancy, when the baby’s organs are developing and are most vulnerable to potential harm.

Lighter forms of sedation, such as nitrous oxide or oral sedatives, can be used during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy if deemed necessary by the dental provider and obstetrician.

These forms are considered safer because they have a shorter duration of action and are less likely to affect the baby’s development.

Sedation Dentistry Risks for Kids

Overall, dental sedation can be safe and effective for children when used appropriately and administered by a qualified dental provider.

It may be recommended for children with anxiety or difficulty sitting still for dental procedures or those requiring extensive dental work. Usually, minimal sedation with nitrous oxide is used.

Deeper levels of sedation are not recommended, especially for kids under 6, since younger children have smaller airways that can easily be blocked.

Sedation Dentistry Risks for the Elderly

The elderly are another risk group for sedation. They may be more vulnerable to potential risks, including changes in blood pressure and heart rate, respiratory depression, and cognitive impairment.

Additionally, elderly patients may take multiple medications for other health conditions, which can interact with the sedative medications used during the dental procedure.

In most cases, dentists will opt for lower sedation levels to avoid possible risks.

Who Can Receive Dental Sedation?

Dental sedation is a good option for patients who experience anxiety or fear related to dental procedures, require extensive dental work, or have certain medical conditions that make dental procedures difficult or uncomfortable.

Generally, dental sedation can be used for children and adults as long as they are in good overall health and have been properly evaluated by a qualified dental provider.

It is vital to choose a certified specialist that will study your specific case, recommend the type and level of sedation, and monitor your condition during the procedure.


In conclusion, dental sedation is a safe and effective way to alleviate pain, anxiety, and discomfort during dental procedures.

Patients have access to various levels of sedation depending on their specific needs and the complexity of the procedure.

Sedation is typically administered by licensed dentists who have received specific training in sedation techniques, and sometimes, by anesthesia providers working in conjunction with the dentist. 

Although sedation carries some risks, they are mitigated by strict safety protocols, and the benefits of sedation often outweigh the risks.

Patients should discuss their concerns and medical history with their dentist to determine the best sedation method for them.

Image by Daniel Frank from Pexels 

The editorial staff of Medical News Bulletin had no role in the preparation of this post. The views and opinions expressed in this sponsored post are those of the advertiser and do not reflect those of the Medical News Bulletin. Any Web sites linked from Medical News Bulletin site are created by organizations outside of Medical News Bulletin and are the sole responsibility of those organizations. These links are strictly provided by Medical News Bulletin as a convenience to you for additional information only. Medical News Bulletin does not approve or endorse the content on any third-party Web sites and is not responsible for the content of linked third-party sites or third-party advertisements, as well as does not make any representations regarding their content or accuracy. Your use of third-party web sites is at your own risk and subject to the terms and conditions of use as per such sites policies. Medical News Bulletin does not provide specific medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and hereby disclaims any assumption of any of the obligations, claims or liabilities..



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