Which Dental Sedation Option is Right for You?

Which Dental Sedation Option is Right for You?

Not all fears of the dentist are created equal. Needles might not bother you, but the dentist’s drill could give you nightmares. Sitting in the chair for a cleaning may be easy but feeling out of control during the procedure makes you tense. Everyone who’s afraid to go to dentists has their own triggers. That also means that each option to help patients overcome their fears will be different for everyone, too.

If you’re considering sedation as a method to help you get through your dental procedure, it’s important to know which options may be best for you.

Nitrous Oxide or Laughing Gas

Nitrous Oxide or Laughing GasThe gentlest and easiest of all sedation options is also the oldest – nitrous oxide. In order to take this medication, all you need to do is inhale. Nitrous oxide is known as laughing gas because it tends to make people who use it a little silly and giggly. When you’re usually anxious and worried at the dentist, this can be a nice break from your typical appointment. It’s used most often for patients with mild anxiety or dental fears and can often be used in nearly any procedure.

Nitrous oxide takes the edge off your fears without the need for pills, needles, or other more invasive options. It works fast and wears off quickly. This means you don’t need anyone to go to the dentist with you or drive you home. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect for every patient. If you’re in the first trimester of your pregnancy or have breathing problems, laughing gas won’t be an option for you.

Oral Sedation

Oral SedationIf your fears of the dentist go beyond mild worry or low-level anxiety, you may need something stronger than nitrous oxide to help you relax. Oral sedation is an option for patients with extreme anxieties scheduled for longer or more invasive procedures. In very extreme circumstances, it could be an option for less invasive procedures but this is rare.

Before you can be approved for oral sedation, your dentist must complete a thorough medical history with you. While the medications used in oral sedation are safe, they’re not right for all patients. Patients who are pregnant, have major depression, or heart and liver problems, among others, are not good candidates for oral sedation.

Oral sedation is administered through anti-anxiety medication. You’re prescribed two doses of a benzodiazepine. You take one the night before your appointment and the second dose right before your appointment. Because of the effects of the medication, someone must accompany you to your dentist appointment and drive you home.

IV Sedation or Sleep Dentistry

IV Sedation or Sleep DentistryA more invasive sedation option for patients with severe dental phobias and anxiety is IV sedation, sometimes referred to as “sleep dentistry.” While effective, IV sedation is not recommended for every anxious or fearful patient. To use IV sedation, medication is injected into your bloodstream through an IV in your arm or hand. Depending on your anxiety level surrounding injections and needles, this may not be a good option for you.

IV sedation, because it’s so invasive, likely won’t be recommended unless every other option fails or can’t be used. The medication puts you in a waking twilight so technically you can respond to the dentist and staff but you probably won’t remember anything. Because of its impact on memory and the patient, IV sedation is often only used in very invasive procedures for patients who cannot get through it otherwise.

You definitely need someone to be in the office with you so they can take note of any postoperative instructions when you’re done. They also need to drive you home. You’ll need to sleep and rest when you get home until the medication wears off or while you recover from the intensity of and any discomfort from your procedure.

Like oral sedation, your dentist will not recommend this option until a full medical history is taken. Most people with any serious medical condition or who are pregnant cannot use sedation dentistry due to the potential reaction to the medication.


While working to overcome your fears of the dentist is the best option in the long-run, dental sedation may be what you need to get through an upcoming procedure. Not every method works for every patient, but it’s worth discussing it with your dentist to create a plan to help you be more comfortable. Neglecting your dental health because you’re afraid harms your overall health. It’s much better to use available methods to temporarily diminish your fear than to ignore your teeth and health.