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4 Types of Sedation Dentistry: Which One is Right for You?

by | Jun 12, 2024 | Sedation Dentistry

4 Types of Sedation Dentistry: Which One is Right for You?
Dental procedures can be a source of anxiety for many people. The sound of the drill, the bright lights, and the thought of needles all add to the fear and discomfort. This is where sedation dentistry comes in – a method of managing pain and anxiety during dental procedures through the use of medication.

Studies show that nearly 20% of adults in the United States have received some form of sedation for a procedure.

There are four main types of dental sedation: nitrous oxide, oral sedation, IV sedation, and general anesthesia. In this article, we will discuss each type in detail and help you determine which one is right for you.

Let’s jump right in:

1. Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas)

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is a mild form of sedation that is delivered through an inhaler mask. It is a colorless and odorless gas that helps patients relax and feel more comfortable during dental procedures. In some cases, it can even induce a feeling of euphoria or happiness, hence the nickname “laughing gas.” This is one of the most common sedation techniques used by dentists, with roughly 60% offering it.

nitrous oxide for children

The effects of nitrous oxide wear off quickly after the mask is taken off, allowing patients to resume normal activities almost immediately. This makes it a popular choice for patients who only need mild sedation and do not want to have the lingering effects of some other types of sedation. It is also safe for children and can be used during routine dental cleanings or fillings.

Potential Side Effects of Nitrous Oxide

 Although nitrous oxide is generally safe, there are some potential side effects that patients should be aware of. According to the American Dental Association, these may include:

  • Dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Shivering
  • Excessive sweating
  • Fatigue
  • Agitation

However, these side effects are rare and can be easily managed by adjusting the dosage. It is important to discuss any concerns with your dentist before undergoing nitrous oxide sedation.

2. Oral Sedation

Oral sedation is a popular choice for patients who experience mild to moderate levels of dental anxiety and/or have longer procedures.

oral sedation

This type of sedation dentistry involves taking a pill that helps patients feel relaxed and drowsy during dental procedures. Most dentists use triazolam, which belongs to the same drug class as Valium. It is taken about an hour before the procedure, and its effects can last for several hours.

One of the benefits of oral sedation is that it is easy to administer and does not require any needles or inhalers. Patients can simply take a pill and relax while the medication takes effect. It also has a longer-lasting sedative effect compared to nitrous oxide, making it suitable for more complex dental procedures.

Potential Side Effects of Oral Sedation

As with any type of medication, there are potential side effects associated with oral sedation. These include: 

  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty remembering details of the procedure

Your dentist will review your medical history thoroughly with you prior to your sedation appointment and coordinate care with your medical doctors in advance if needed. This will help ensure your safety during the procedure.

3. Intravenous (IV) Sedation

Bayway Dental patient with Dr. Sherberg and DA

Intravenous sedation, also known as IV sedation, is a form of conscious sedation where medication is administered directly into the bloodstream through a vein. This type of sedation allows for a deeper level of relaxation compared to nitrous oxide or oral sedation and is often used for more lengthy appointments.

During IV sedation, an anesthesiologist will monitor your vital signs and adjust the dosage as needed to keep you comfortable and relaxed. It induces a state of semi-consciousness where patients can still respond to instructions but may have little to no memory of the procedure afterward.

Potential Side Effects of Intravenous Sedation

While IV sedation can be highly effective in managing severe dental anxiety, it does come with some risks. According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists, potential side effects include:

  • Respiratory depression
  • Drowsiness and dizziness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Low drive to breathe

Patients must disclose their full medical history, including any allergies or current medications, before undergoing IV sedation. Your dentist will review your medical history thoroughly with you prior to your sedation appointment and coordinate care with your medical doctors in advance if needed. Your dentist and anesthesiologist will also carefully monitor your vital signs throughout the dental treatment to ensure your safety.

4. General Anesthesia

General anesthesia is the deepest level of sedation and involves complete unconsciousness during a dental procedure. It is typically reserved for more complex or lengthy surgeries performed in a hospital setting.

Bayway Dental patient and DA smiling

During general anesthesia, medication is administered through an IV or inhaled through a mask to put the patient into a deep sleep. An anesthesiologist will be present to monitor your vital signs and adjust the dosage as needed throughout the procedure.

Potential Side Effects of General Anesthesia

General anesthesia poses more significant risks compared to other forms of sedation due to its deeper level of unconsciousness. Some potential risks include:

  • Breathing difficulties and respiratory arrest
  • Changes in heart rate or blood pressure
  • Nausea, vomiting, and aspiration of stomach contents
  • Allergic reactions to anesthesia medication
  • Prolonged grogginess and drowsiness after the procedure

It is essential to carefully consider the risks and benefits of general anesthesia before undergoing a dental procedure. Your dentist will discuss your options and determine if general anesthesia is necessary for your specific case.

Which Type of Sedation is Right for You? 

Choosing the right type of sedation for your dental procedure depends on various factors, including your medical history, anxiety level, and the complexity of the procedure. It is crucial to discuss all these factors with your dentist to determine the safest and most effective option for you. 

Regardless of which type of sedation you choose, it is essential to follow your dentist’s instructions carefully before and after the procedure. This may include fasting beforehand, stopping certain medications, and having someone accompany you home afterward.

With proper care and monitoring, dental sedation can help alleviate fear and discomfort during a dental office visit and ensure a positive experience.

In Need of Dentist Services in Tampa Bay, FL?

At Bayway Dental, we understand that dental anxiety is a common concern for many patients. Our team is experienced in providing sedation options to help our patients feel comfortable and at ease during their procedures. Whether you require nitrous oxide, oral medication, or general anesthesia, we are committed to ensuring your safety and comfort throughout the entire process.

Contact us today to learn more and schedule an appointment!


Dr. David Sherberg

Dr. David Sherberg

Dr. David Sherberg graduated from the University of Connecticut School of Dental Medicine, then pursued an Advanced Education in General Dentistry residency at Virginia Commonwealth University. Sherberg, who has received extensive dental implant continuing education, is a certified DOCS Education member. He is certified in moderate sedation and is an oral surgery volunteer at Remote Area Medical in Florida. An avid researcher, he is also a fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry. He lectures nationally to dentists and is a faculty member of the Phelps Institute. He has received numerous “Best Dentist” awards throughout his career, including Best Dentist in Tampa Bay, and has been featured on ABC News, News Channel 8, Vibrant Living and the Wellness Hour.