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– W.B. Hooks III, M.D.
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What Is Sedation Dentistry?

If you’re confused about what sedation dentistry is, as opposed to sleep dentistry or other terms that you may have encountered, allow us to clear up the confusion for you.

Sleep Dentistry – An Unfortunate Misnomer

First of all, sleep dentistry is a term that some dentists have used when promoting sedation dentistry services. Unfortunately, while the term may sound simpler or even different from sedation dentistry, it causes patient confusion.  With good reason, the American Dental Association (ADA) and the Academy of General Dentistry (AGD) have discouraged dentists from using that term, and some state dental boards have now legally banned the use of the term.
The term sleep dentistry leads some people to believe that they will be receiving general anesthesia - or will be “put to sleep” as many people casually call it. Those who experiences dental anxiety may wrongly narrow their options by looking for a sleep dentist, thinking they will get something they are not actually going to get. That’s one reason professional dental associations discourage the use of the term.

Sedation Dentistry vs. General Anesthesia

Sedation dentistry does not involve the use of general anesthesia.  It refers to the use of pharmacological approaches that do not intentionally cause the patient to become unconscious. On the other hand, general anesthesia intentionally renders the patient unconscious.  This concept, too, can cause some confusion, because it can lead you to believe that consciousness is an on/off state. In reality, there is a sliding scale with relative degrees of consciousness that are indicated by what the patient is or is not capable of doing. 

Weighing Your Options

If you believe you need general anesthesia for regular dentistry procedures, you should first realize that option is both very costly and involves greater risk for you as a patient.  Sedation dentistry allows you to become sedated enough that you are generally unaware of what is going on while in the dentist’s chair. Patients are generally surprised to learn what procedures have been performed and how much time has actually elapsed.
Oral surgeons and other types of specialists do use general anesthesia at times. However, they always discourage its use unless it is really warranted by the procedures being performed because of the greater patient risk involved. Because general anesthesia causes you to become unconscious, there is a much greater possibility that you might need to be resuscitated. For that reason, it is usually administered only in a hospital setting where an artificial airway can be maintained to support an instant resuscitation attempt. The hospital (or hospital-like) setting and staffing needed for the administration of general anesthesia result in it being a far more expensive option than sedation dentistry.

Sedation Dentistry – Safety

In 2009, the NC state dental board put in force regulations that assure patient safety in the use of various levels of sedation – controlling the amount of sedative used, how it is administered, the dentist’s training/experience level, the staff’s training, and presence of appropriate resuscitation equipment.  There are a limited of number of certified providers of this service in Raleigh. If you are interested in trying a sedation dentist in Raleigh, give us a call. We will be glad to answer any additional questions you might have.