Is General Anesthesia Used in Dentistry?

Is General Anesthesia Used in Dentistry?

General anesthesia (GA), most commonly used in major and minor surgeries at the hospital, is a rare option in dentistry. While very few people may ever need to go under general anesthesia for a dental procedure, it’s a method for the special or tough cases who really need it, including anyone with a deep fear of dental procedures.

These days IV sedation is a much better, and safer method to sedate patients and relieve pain during a procedure. Most of the time, general anesthesia is an absolute last resort. Remember, sedation means that you may still be able to respond or move, but anesthesia knocks you out completely. You’ll be unaware of your surroundings and feel nothing that happens to you.

Why General Anesthesia is Rare

Why General Anesthesia is RareUsing general anesthesia typically only occurs in hospitals because of the dangers it can pose to patients. GA slows down your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. The risks for most people are minimal but that’s not true for everyone. Everyone must have bloodwork, x-rays, and an ECG done before getting general anesthesia to be safe.

In order to administer general anesthesia, your dentist must have a specialized and advanced training or an anesthesiologist must be brought in to help. Your breathing, heart rate, and other vital signs must also be monitored. GA is a very expensive option.

You will also have a breathing tube down your throat while you’re under anesthesia. Your body will be essentially paralyzed and you will become dead weight. Your dentist or oral surgeon will have a harder time performing the procedure. Your tongue will stick out further due to the tube, and you won’t be able to help move or reposition your body as needed. As a result, your dentist will tire quickly.

When General Anesthesia is Offered

When General Anesthesia is OfferedBecause IV sedation is safer and quicker than general anesthesia, GA is only offered under extraordinary circumstances. While most people can use IV sedation with ease, not everyone can. If the procedure is serious enough – or your fear is great enough – and IV sedation doesn’t work, general anesthesia may be offered.

In other cases, the procedure is simply too invasive for IV sedation. If the procedure itself could be potentially traumatic, your sedation dentist or oral surgeon may recommend general anesthesia. This could be for something like a wisdom tooth extraction where the bone has covered the tooth. GA will not be recommended for something basic like a filling or cleaning.

How General Anesthesia is Administered

How General Anesthesia is AdministeredOnce you get to the hospital where your procedure will be performed, you’ll be prepped for surgery. You’ll likely have had your tests done a few days before so there will be very little to do other than to get into a hospital gown and wait. Being put under general anesthesia is fairly straightforward:

  • A needle will be injected into your arm or hand
  • A breathing mask may be used to administer a gas anesthesia
  • Once you’re under, a breathing tube will be inserted down your throat
  • If you have a fear of needles, you may have the gas given to you first, and then the needle can be inserted.

You can expect to wake up fairly numb, thanks to a longer acting medication. That’s to give you time to take medication so you don’t feel all the pain right after the procedure is done. You will also have to spend time in recovery before being released to go home. Don’t be surprised that you’ll need someone who can drive you home to come with you. They’ll also be responsible for relaying any other information about pain medication or follow up visits.

General Anesthesia Doesn’t Cure Your Fear

General Anesthesia Doesn’t Cure Your FearThe big downside to general anesthesia, other than the aforementioned risks, is that it does nothing to help you with any dental fear or anxiety you may have. You’re unconscious for the entire procedure and don’t know what happens. You never have the opportunity to work through your fear or face it. For people with severe anxiety and fears, however, this may be the best option so that you don’t neglect your dental health.


Regardless of the extent of any fear you feel about the dentist, needles, or procedures, general anesthesia will always be the last option. Yes, it’s still used when necessary, but it’s often much safer to exhaust all other options first. The exception to that is if the procedure is simply too invasive. When that happens, general anesthesia may truly be the safest and best method, but it’s still extremely rare.