There are many reasons why people sometimes avoid going to the dentist, including concerns about cost and lack of time, but sometimes the issue is a fear of having dental treatment. Research shows that about 36 percent of Americans have some fear of going to the dentist, and about 12 percent suffer from extreme fear. In some situations, this can rise to the level of dentophobia, or extreme fear of the dentist that causes people to avoid dental treatment unless they’re in terrible pain.
Many people with dental anxieties or fears know that avoiding the dentist isn’t a good idea and that it can cause them to need more dental treatment later. However, fear and anxiety can be powerful motivators and may prevent them from going to the dentist anyway. But there is no reason that you should have to suffer from preventable dental problems if your fear of treatment is keeping you away. At Great Care Family Dentistry, we offer multiple options for sedation dentistry, in which we treat your anxiety and your dental issues simultaneously. As a result, you can get the care you need without all the stress and worry.
Other Reasons You or a Loved One May Need Sedation Dentistry
While anxiety is a common reason why sedation dentistry is used, there are other reasons. Sedation dentistry is also helpful for:
- People with disabilities. Some adults or children with developmental disabilities may have difficulty understanding the purpose of a dental visit or sitting still. Others may have disorders that involve involuntary or unpredictable movements that could be problematic during a dental procedure. Sedation allows us to successfully treat these patients.
- Children. Young children, in particular, may not understand that they need to stay still during a dental procedure, or they may be very frightened despite our best efforts to put them at ease. Sedation dentistry can also help them through a challenging experience.
- Patients undergoing lengthy procedures. Sometimes lying in a dental chair for a long time can be stressful or frustrating even if you’re not feeling any pain. In particular, some treatments may involve propping the jaw open for an extended period of time while we work on your teeth. Although we will get the area around the tooth numb, the patient may still have pain or discomfort in their jaw or head due to their mouth being open for a while.
- People who have difficulty getting numb with local anesthetics. Most people respond well to novocaine and related numbing medications, but in rare cases, some patients don’t respond and still feel pain. In these situations, sedation may be a good option.
- People with a fear of needles or who have a strong gag reflex.
What Does a Sedation Dentist Do?
We work hard to ensure you have as pleasant an experience as possible. As a first step, we recommend you make an appointment to have your teeth examined and discuss the treatment you need with a dentist. Please let us know if you experience dental anxiety or think you would benefit from sedation dentistry for other reasons, and we will do our best to make you comfortable long enough to diagnose your dental issues. We will then talk with you about the types of sedation possible for the procedure you need. There are three types of sedation available:
Also known as laughing gas, this is administered through a mask or hood that fits over your nose but leaves your mouth open. For most patients, it works quickly and causes feelings of relaxation or even giddiness (hence the term “laughing gas). You will still be awake during the procedure but will feel very calm. Nitrous oxide effects wear off quickly after your treatment is finished, and we stop giving you the gas. We may administer oxygen for a few minutes to help it clear your system faster, and once you feel like yourself again, you can even drive home.
Although it is safe for most people, nitrous oxide isn’t right for everyone, and your dentist will ask you screening questions to ensure it’s a good fit for you. A small percentage of people find the sensations produced by laughing gas unpleasant instead of relaxing, and we can consider other options if you’re one of them.
Oral Conscious Sedation
With this type of sedation, we will prescribe a sedative to take about an hour before your appointment, usually Halcyon or another benzodiazepine like Valium or Ativan. These medications cause you to feel more relaxed, but they also slow your responses and you may feel like you’re doing things in “slow motion.” Unlike nitrous oxide, they don’t wear off quickly, and you might feel groggy or sleepy for several hours after your treatment. As a result, you will need someone to drive you to and from your appointment.
As with laughing gas, most patients are awake for all or most of the procedure with oral sedation, although you may feel drowsy and fall asleep. However, you won’t be in a very deep sleep, and we will be able to nudge you awake if needed. You may be aware of what’s going on but not feel concerned or bothered by it as you normally would. Sedatives often have an amnestic effect, and some patients don’t remember anything about the procedure the next day.
This is the strongest type of sedation available at a dental office. We’ll insert an IV in order to give you sedating medications that should cause you to fall asleep for the procedure. (If you have anxiety about needles, we can give you laughing gas first.) A nurse anesthetist will monitor your heart rate and breathing, and we will administer reversal medications when we’re done to help you wake up. Most people go to sleep and are unaware of their surroundings during the procedure. You will probably be groggy afterward and should have a friend or family member drive you home.
Is Sedation for Dentist Appointments Covered by Dental Insurance?
It depends on your insurance, medical history, and the type of sedation, but in some cases, yes. Unfortunately, most insurance companies consider sedation dentistry a “luxury” or “elective” treatment and refuse to pay for it. However, if your anxiety is preventing you from getting treatment, you may be able to get it covered as a medical necessity. Sometimes this requires a diagnosis of dental anxiety. If you’re having difficulty getting the insurance company to approve your sedation, our office staff will do their best to help you with any documentation needed.
In the event that your dental insurance carrier still flatly refuses to pay for sedation, nitrous oxide is less expensive than IV sedation (although it may not work as well for some patients). Oral sedation might be the best solution if you have medical insurance that includes pharmacy benefits, as you can simply fill the prescription like any other medication you take. Usually, the insurance company fills prescriptions for covered medications without issue, but if you do have a problem, there may be an inexpensive generic available.
What are the Side Effects of Oral Sedation Dentistry?
Sedation dentistry is generally very safe, but some people may have side effects like drowsiness, dry mouth, headache, or memory loss for the time they were under sedation. Some patients experience vivid dreams or hallucinations when using nitrous oxide, but these usually go away once the effects wear off. We recommend taking the day off work so you can go home and rest after your procedure.
What About Pediatric Sedation Dentistry?
Sedation is available for children as well. Many young children are frightened or unable to cooperate for even simple procedures like fillings, and sedation dentistry allows them to be treated without fear or anxiety. Some children respond well to nitrous oxide, but others may do better with oral sedation. This is usually prescribed as a liquid for kids who struggle with swallowing pills. We can also do IV sedation if these options don’t work well.
Contact a Gwinnett County Sedation Dentist Today
Dental anxiety or fear is common, but it should not prevent you from getting the treatment you need. Please contact us to set up an appointment so we can discuss your needs and how best to help you.