Sleep Dentistry – Don’t Be Confused

If you’ve heard the term sleep dentistry, you’ve been exposed to an unfortunate misnomer in the world of dentistry. At Raleigh Comprehensive and Cosmetic Dentistry, you’ll never hear us use the term because we don’t want to add to the confusion. Other people just say that they’re looking for a dentist in Raleigh that puts you to sleep while performing the work. The service we offer to help patients who experience dental anxiety or have unusual sensitivity is called sedation dentistry. We are providing this explanation simply to set the record straight, since patients sometimes ask us if we provide sleep dentistry.

Sleep Dentistry – Why It’s Such a Misnomer

Using the term sleep dentistry is in some ways similar to calling a koala a koala bear. (A koala is a marsupial, not a bear.) When people use the term sleep dentistry, they are usually referring to a form of conscious sedation dentistry, which does not put the patient to sleep. (Many patients would describe this experience as one where the dentist puts you to sleep, although that doesn’t actually happen!) The reason you don’t want to be put to sleep (general anesthesia) except when really necessary is that there is a greater risk with general anesthesia – a risk that you could stop breathing and need to be resuscitated. In general, you should not use a level of sedation greater than necessary to make the patient comfortable for a procedure.  Because of this confusion factor, the American Dental Association (ADA) and Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) both discourage the use of the term sleep dentistry. Some states even forbid the use of the term in marketing.

The Ounce of Truth in Sleep Dentistry

Just like there is some perceived resemblance between koalas and bears, patients undergoing sedation dentistry (conscious sedation) perceive that they have been asleep while the dental procedures are being performed. This is because they have no memory afterwards about what happened while they were sedated. The patient doesn’t recall actually being conscious and able to respond to commands from the dentist (e.g., “Open your mouth”), or that significant amounts of time (sometimes hours) have elapsed.  To most people, this is the same way they feel after they have experienced uninterrupted sleep.  The reason we as dentists should not use the term sleep dentistry is simply that it is not true – it simply seems like it is true to patients. So, on some level, using the term is a form of false advertising.

The Proper Term – Oral Conscious Sedation Dentistry

At Raleigh Comprehensive and Cosmetic Dentistry, the sedation dentistry service we offer is officially called oral conscious sedation dentistry. As the name clearly implies, the sedation medication is administered orally and you remain conscious. Our services also include the use of inhalation techniques (nitrous oxide).
Oral conscious sedation is a safe procedure, particularly with the recently enacted regulations for its administration in the State of North Carolina. The NC Dental Board certifies that dentists who choose to provide this service have the training and experience necessary to provide the service. It also ensures that equipment and training are in place to provide resuscitation in the very unlikely event that you might need it. (Remember – the risk associated with oral conscious sedation is much lower than that of general anesthesia, which requires that an artificial airway be maintained.)

Ask us about sedation dentistry. We will be glad to answer any additional questions you might have and discuss with you what sedation approach will be most appropriate for you personally and for the dental procedures being performed. We want you to be comfortable while having dental procedures performed, as well as comfortable and well-informed about the use and benefits of sedation dentistry.