Time to relax beach photo

“Sleepy dentistry,” also known as sedation dentistry, is an option that we offer to our patients who are anxious about their time at the dentist or who are undergoing major procedures. In our guide, we’re going to provide you with a full rundown of this type of dentistry, how it works and who it is a good fit for it. We offer oral sedation but we will discuss IV sedation and nitrous oxide as well.

What is Sleepy Dentistry?

Sleepy dentistry doesn’t “put you to sleep,” so it’s more of a conscious form of sedation. A combination of sedatives may be given to you to help you:

  • Relax
  • Feel less pain
  • Get through much-needed procedures

One survey found that 9.8% of Canadians were somewhat afraid of getting dental treatment, 5.5% had high levels of fear and 7.6% let anxiety stop them from going to the dentist. The goal for all of our patients is to remove this dental fear that stops them from getting the procedures they require.

Cartoon of person with anxiety

Sometimes, sedation dentistry is needed to help patients cope with their fears.

Depending on the fear and the level of anxiety that the patient experiences, a dentist may use one of a combination of different sedation methods:

  1. Minimal sedation. The lowest form of sedation is called “minimal sedation,” and this is when we provide enough sedatives to keep you calm without losing consciousness. You'll even be able to respond to the dentist coherently with minimal sedation.
  1. Moderate sedation. If you need additional help to calm down, we may recommend moderate sedation. Most patients remain responsive, but they will go in and out of consciousness in many cases.
  1. Deep sedation. In the most severe cases, a specialist can provide deep sedation, which will put you to sleep. They can still wake you up, but it’s not an easy task. Deep sedation is not the same as anesthesia, which is used with unconscious sedation.

All forms of sleep sedation are less worrisome than unconscious sedation. If anesthesia is required, we’ll need to call in an anesthesiologist, who will be responsible for monitoring you during the entire procedure.

What Does Sleepy Dentistry Feel Like?

Everyone that sits in our dental chair and is awaiting sleepy dentistry will ask us how it feels. Most people have a similar experience, but the way that they describe it can differ drastically. You want to remain calm and relaxed during a procedure, and you can with sleep dentistry.

We have had many patients share their experiences with us, and we notice that the feeling changes with the type of sedation that is performed:

IV Sedation

IV Sedation bag

If IV sedation is administered, this is the most intense form of conscious sedation. You'll feel:

  • An intense feeling of relaxation
  • Exhausted and have trouble not nodding off

Most patients note that they feel extremely safe and worry-free when they have IV sedation. However, while you will be conscious, there’s a good chance that you’ll begin nodding off at some point.

Oral Sedation

Brunette holding a sedation pill

IV is not necessary for some patients, and in this case, we may recommend an oral sedative. These oral solutions will help you feel a strong sense of relaxation and being safe. However, you may struggle to form coherent sentences, and you’ll feel very tired during the procedure.

Additionally, many patients tell us they:

  • Feel like their reflexes are slower
  • Lose some coordination during sedation
  • Suffer from memory loss during the procedure

Oral sedation also makes many of our patients feel like the entire procedure flies by, so they’re in and out of the office before they know it.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide

Finally, nitrous oxide may be administered in the form of a gas. The gas has a sweet scent to it, and most people state that they have a euphoric feeling when we administer the nitrous oxide to them.

A few of the feelings that patients have are:

  • Tingling in their limbs
  • Reduction in reaction time
  • Lower pain sensitivity
  • Feeling of euphoria

Many patients also get the giggles, making a potentially anxious experience for them turn into one filled with laughs. With less pain and sensitivity, patients can have their procedure performed and help restore their oral health.

“Sleepy dentistry” offers a feeling of being in a fog that is very relaxing and freeing. You won’t experience heightened anxiety or fear. Most patients will remember brief moments of the procedure and will leave our office happy.

How Long Does It Take for Sedation to Work?

Each form of sedation has a different timespan before you’ll begin “feeling it.”  The time span that you can expect for each form of sedation includes:

  • Oral. Most oral sedation methods take a while to metabolize, so you will begin to feel the sedative working within 30 – 60 minutes.
  • IV. The fastest form of sedation is IV, and you’ll begin to feel euphoric and worry-free within just a few minutes.
  • Nitrous Oxide. A good middle-ground solution is nitrous oxide, which patients will begin feeling the effects from within 3 minutes.

We'll wait until you begin feeling the effects of sedation before we start working on your teeth. The good news is that most forms of sedation are pain-free. IV sedation is the only form of sedation on the list that causes any sense of pain, and the pain is related to us putting the IV in place.

You’ll feel a quick pinch, and then that’s it.

We can also perform pain-free sedation, where we’ll numb the injection site beforehand so that you don’t feel any discomfort. Nitrous oxide and oral sedation are both pain-free and what most of our patients will receive.

However, we’ll help you decide if you’re a good fit for sedation therapy or not when you come into our office.

Who is a Good Fit for Sedation Dentistry?

You may or may not be a good candidate for sleepy dentistry. Many patients will have a slight fear coming into our office, but it quickly subsides the moment we begin working on their teeth. However, there are always a few patients who have a very difficult time in our office.

These patients have a true anxiety and fear of going to the dentist.

Many of these individuals will cancel dental procedures or avoid our office completely because they would rather suffer through tooth pain than go to the dentist. We never want you to neglect your dental health out of fear.

If you have any of the following, you may be a perfect fit for sedation dentistry:

  • Very low pain threshold
  • Bad gag reflexes that impact your procedure
  • Highly sensitive teeth
  • Deep fear of the dentist
  • Complex dental procedures like root canals are required

There are also some patients, such as children, who simply cannot sit still in the chair. While the amount of sedation for a child will be much lower than what we administer to an adult, it will provide the same great benefits and a sense of relief.

Minimal sedation is something most dentists can offer, and we do because we aim to provide all of our patients with the best care possible.

Sleepy Dentistry FAQs

What are the Side Effects of Sleepy Dentistry?

Unfortunately, any form of sedation does have a very low risk of side effects to be concerned about. These side effects are minor, and they include:

  • Drowsiness
  • Headache
  • Nausea

Some patients may also experience low blood pressure. If you’re on medication for blood pressure, it’s important to let us know so that we can discuss alternatives with you. The side effects are a risk for the first few hours after the procedure.

Due to the risk of drowsiness, we do recommend that you bring someone with you who can drive you home afterward. Even if you don’t feel tired, the risk of slow reflexes is enough to exercise caution so that you don’t end up in an accident and make it home safely.

How Long Will It Take Me to Recover from Sedation?

In most cases, we recommend that you plan to take the entire day off so that the sedation is fully out of your system. Side effects for many patients only last a few hours, but there are some patients who will feel tired or “out of it” for most of the day.

We recommend taking the day off and not operating any heavy machinery because your reaction time may be hindered.

What Is the Sedation Procedure Like in Your Office?

Sedation is scary for anyone who has never experienced it before, but it’s a simple procedure that begins like any other in our office. You'll sit back in our chair, be greeted by our staff and then the sedative will be administered.

If you have oral sedation, you’ll wait up to 45 minutes in the chair before we begin.

We'll monitor you the entire time to ensure that your breathing remains stable and your blood pressure is at appropriate levels. If everything looks good, we’ll begin your procedure so that you can go home.  

Our staff is here to help provide you with the best sedation possible. We'll review all of your options with you and discuss the cost so that we can find a solution that best fits into your budget.

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Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu - Dentist at Lighthouse Dental Centre and Blue Water Dental
Dr. Gurpreet Sidhu

With nearly two decades of experience, Dr. Sidhu enjoys helping his patients learn about dentistry. Knowledge is meant to be improved, challenged and shared.

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