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What is Sleep Dentistry?

Sleep dentistry is the use of medication to help relax patients during procedures. Although referred to as ‘sleep’ dentistry, the patient is usually awake, with the exception of those who are under general anesthesia.

sleep dentistry patient

What is sleep dentistry used for?

Commonly offered as an option to patients who experience dental fear, sleep dentistry aids in calming the patient down and putting them into a rested state, where they are comfortable enough for the dentist to work. People with dental fear find it extremely difficult to attend their recommended yearly visits, as even the thought of setting foot in the dentist’s office often causes them to tense with fear. This usually means that dental checkups are missed and overall dental hygiene is neglected, and in most cases, they will not schedule a dental appointment until their tooth pain has become unbearable.

The other circumstance, in which sleep dentistry is used for, is oral surgery or complex dental treatments, such as the removal of impacted wisdom teeth, dental implant surgery, or other greatly invasive and/or painful procedures. In these situations, it is easier to put the patient to sleep to eliminate pain and discomfort.

How does sleep dentistry work?

There are different levels and types of sleep dentistry. The strength of sedation differs depending on the procedure or circumstance.

The different levels of sedation include:

  • Minimal sedation – the patient is awake but relaxed.
  • Moderate sedation – the patient is awake but heavily sedated to the point of not being able to remember much.
  • Deep sedation – the patient is on the edge of consciousness but can still be awakened. They will have no recollection procedure.
  • General anesthetic – complete unconsciousness

People using sleep dentistry for dental fear will often be offered minimal to moderation sedation, and possible deep sedation if the dental anxiety is at a critical level.

General anesthetic is usually only used for oral surgery.

The different types of types of sedation:

  • Inhaled sedation – this is used for mildly anxious patients who will breathe in nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, throughout the procedure. It is a mild form of sedation that wears off quickly and often allows patients to drive home afterwards.
  • Oral sedation – depending on the dose given, oral sedation ranges from minimal to moderate. Tablets such as valium and diazepam are prescribed to the patient and are to be taken an hour prior to the procedure, making them calm and drowsy, to the point where they no longer feel anxious, but are still awake and responsive.
  • IV moderate sedation – also known as Twilight sedation. Patients are given a sedative that is delivered intravenously. The patient, although still conscious, will feel as though they have had a deep sleep and will have no (or very little) memory of the procedure. This is used for minor to moderate oral surgeries, and for patients who suffer from extreme dental anxiety.
  • General anesthesia – the patient is totally unconscious. General anesthesia is used for oral surgeries and is administered in a hospital where an anesthetist is present. The patient will have no recollection of the procedure, aside from going to sleep and waking up.