What’s the Story with ‘Sleep Dentistry’?

What’s the Story with ‘Sleep Dentistry’?

You’ve probably seen billboards or heard commercials about a revolutionary new technique for anyone scared of the dentist. Just go to sleep and you won’t feel a thing. Sometimes it’s called the solution for people with a deep fear of the dentist. Since you get a little nervous during cleanings, you might thinking this is perfect for you.

Right? Not exactly.

Sleep dentistry isn’t new and it isn’t necessary for everyone who sees a dentist. It’s a catch-all term for sedation during your procedure. Not all sedation puts you to sleep, and not all options are the right one for you. Before you sign up for “sleep dentistry,” you need to know what it is and what it’s not.

What is Sleep Dentistry?

What is Sleep DentistryThe term “sleep dentistry” is a little misleading. It sounds like you’ll be “put to sleep” for your procedure and wake up when it’s all over. While this is a rare option for a few people, most forms of sedation are much milder.

There are four types of sedation.

  • Inhalation sedation is nitrous oxide or, as you may know it, laughing gas. You breathe in the gas and relax during the procedure. You’re awake the entire time.
  • Oral sedation is given as a pill or liquid medicine. These are anti-anxiety medications that you take in the hours prior to coming into the office for your procedure.
  • Intravenous or IV sedation is just like it sounds. Drugs are administered through an IV during your procedure. You’re awake but not really. You likely won’t remember what happens later, and you’ll need help and time to recover afterwards.
  • General anesthesia is the only procedure that really puts you to sleep but it is rarely used. This form of sedation carries plenty of risks and is only used in extreme circumstances.

When you hear the term “sleep dentistry,” it’s really an overall term for sedation methods available from your dentist. It can be as mild as laughing gas or, in extremely rare cases, full anesthesia.

Reasons to Use Sedation

Reasons to Use SedationBefore you decide to use sedation, it’s important to think about the reasons why you want it. The decision you make needs to be right for you and your personal situation. You know yourself best.

  • You have a real fear of the dentist office, dental work, and dental equipment in general.
  • You’re prone to panic attacks when you get nervous or scared.
  • Your fear is directed at a specific procedure like an extraction or at the tools used such as needles or drills.
  • You have other mental health issues that could be worsened by any nervousness you feel.
  • The procedure is extremely invasive.

Sometimes the best option for you is sedation. Once you make that decision, you can work with your dentist to figure out which method is right for the procedure.

Reasons Not to Use Sedation

Reasons Not to Use SedationYou should never feel pressured into using sedation during a dental procedure. The choice is yours to make. There are good reasons not use it, even if you’re a little nervous.

  • You don’t like feeling out of control in a situation.
  • You want to know what’s going on at all times.
  • You don’t like ingesting or taking drugs unless it’s absolutely necessary.
  • You don’t want to lose the ability to reason or think clearly during the procedure.
  • You’re afraid of annoying or bothering your dentist with nervousness or anxiety.

Although an office may advertise and promote the idea of “sleep dentistry,” it’s not a requirement. If you’re offered the option, and you’re not comfortable with sedation, say so.


The million dollar question, when you schedule your appointment or sit in the chair, is what you should do. Is sedation right for you? Or isn’t it? Most of the time, with a caring dentist and staff, you probably don’t need much more than nitrous oxide to help you relax and release some of the tension in your body.

On the other hand, if you break into a cold sweat just thinking about a teeth cleaning, a root canal or extraction may be too much to handle. The best thing to do is talk to your dentist. Share your fears. Talk about any mental health issues or possible panic attacks. Sedation is your choice but it’s best to give your dentist all the information they need to help you make an informed decision.