Sleeping Bunny on the Moon in a dark night

Sedation dentistry fills a major demand among Canadians. A survey of 1101 Canadians found that 49.2% of people with high fear of the dentist were interested in sedation therapy, depending on the cost.

Many of these individuals would consider sedation dentistry for:

  • Cleanings
  • Fillings
  • Crowns
  • Endodontics
  • Periodontal surgery
  • Extraction 

While you may find the experience more relaxing and less stressful overall, sedation may cause you to act or feel a little funny. For example, you may have the giggles, feel like you’re “floating” or even be a bit confused.

However, you don’t need to worry about this odd feeling because it will be short-lived. Often, patients begin to feel like themselves within the first few hours (oral conscious sedation) or so after they go under sedation. In instances where laughing gas is used, the effects begin to wear off within the first 5 minutes.

Why Sedation Therapy Makes You Feel Funny

Sedation at its root alters the brain to a very small degree. The goal is to make you feel relaxed and reduce the risk of anxiety, and this is possible due to the way each form of sedation works. For example, it’s common for the sedative to block neurotransmitters in the brain.

Blocking these neurotransmitters will help:

Additionally, the release of certain brain chemicals will take place, including norepinephrine. However, this chemical is produced when a patient is given nitrous oxide (laughing gas). If another sedative, such as one that contains benzodiazepine is utilized, it will cause a chemical called GABA to be produced.

GABA does have a slightly different effect than norepinephrine, such as impacting a person’s emotions and memory. Anxiety relief is a part of GABA’s effects, so you’ll start to feel an overwhelming sense of calm.

GABA brain neurotransmitter

A dentist will always review your concerns before begining any procedure and decide what the best sedative for you is based on a variety of factors.

Since each form of sedation elicits a different response in the brain, the type of side effects that you experience will vary, too. The two most common forms of sedation are not full anesthetics that put you to sleep.

Instead, we use conscious sedation.

Nitrous Oxide or Laughing Gas

Laughing gas is odorless and known for making people laugh. Unlike in the movies, most people do not laugh hysterically the entire time. Often, people will let out a laugh or two, or they will giggle.

The procedure requires us to place a mask on the patient’s face, which requires them to inhale the nitrous oxide.

Due to gas taking effect quickly, you’ll start to feel the sedative take hold rather quickly. You’ll need to relax before we put the mask on, but once we do, it will provide you with a feeling of being extremely calm.

In the next few minutes, you’ll have the feeling that everything is slowing down. Depressants like laughing gas still allow you to:

  • Hear
  • Understand what’s going on

Patients can normally respond to questions that we ask them and also follow any instructions given to them. The main difference that you’ll experience is that you won’t have anxiety or fear when sitting in the dental chair. You’ll replace the fear with a low level of euphoria, happiness and relaxation.

You may even have mild forms of hallucination.

Your limbs are likely to feel heavy, and they may even begin to tingle. Throughout the procedure, you're reactions are monitored and it's ensured that you remain comfortable. Before you know it, the clinic will be removing your mask and the effects of the gas will quickly wane. In just a few minutes, you’ll be back to your normal self and have completed your dental treatment.

Note: Children may be given oxygen after the mask is removed. Oxygen will speed up the recovery time to just a few minutes. Adults should not need additional oxygen.

Child nitrous sedation

Sedation Side Effects

Laughing gas is one of the safest forms of oral sedation. Side effects are infrequent and the risks are very low when administered in a professional setting. The main side effects that you may feel include:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea

For a child, it’s not unheard of that they’ll vomit or be agitated after the laughing gas is removed. Supplemental oxygen often alleviates the risks of this happening.

Long-term side effects only exist if laughing gas is used outside of a professional setting frequently.

Oral Conscious Sedation

Oral sedation does not include the use of gas to sedate patients. Instead, pills are often the go-to form of administration and are administered as much as an hour before the procedure. One of the disadvantages of oral sedation pills is that they can take a long time to feel effective, and then they need to work their way through your system for the effects to taper off.

Laughing gas is a more immediate sedative and will save you a lot of time when you come into the office. You’ll also be able to go back to your normal activities a lot faster than if you’re given a pill, such as diazepam or triazolam.

Children who are not good with pills are often given a type of syrup to allow them to still benefit from conscious sedation without the risk of them spitting out the pill or getting it stuck in their throat.

Everyone experiences oral sedation slightly differently:

  • Some patients giggle - a lot
  • Some fall asleep

Even if you do fall asleep, we’ll be able to nudge you awake. You won’t fall into a deep sleep that people experience during IV sedation, which is something we do not offer.

Sedation Side Effects

Oral sedation will make you feel groggy and will last for 4 - 6 hours after the procedure. We do recommend that you bring someone with you to the appointment who can drive you home. Operating a motor vehicle after any form of oral sedation is not recommended and can lead to a serious risk of an accident.

A few of the side effect risks that you need to know about include:

  • Drowsiness that remains for a few hours
  • Nausea or vomiting (rare)
  • Headaches
  • Dry mouth

We have no way of knowing how oral sedation will affect you, so we’ll take every precaution possible to ensure that you’re kept as comfortable as possible.

Children often have different side effects. Parents are often very curious about how their children will respond to sedation, and it can be scary at times. A child may become irritable, or they may snore. However, we’ll monitor them to ensure that they’re 100% fine before you leave out office.

What if I’m Pregnant? Will Sedation Therapy Work for Me?

Pregnancy comes with a lot of responsibility. One of the things you need to be cautious about is the medication that you take and even the sedation that you may be under. Since your baby will get the nutrients that you consume, they will also get the same sedative that you consume with a pill.

Due to the risk to your baby, sedation dentistry is off the table for you.

Nitrous oxide is a good option and can be given even during the second trimester. However, we often recommend that you even refrain from laughing gas unless it is a very rare incident and you need dental work done immediately.

What to Avoid After Sedation Dentistry

Following your procedure, you will want to take it easy for a day or so. Laughing gas offers you the fastest route to feeling like yourself, and most people will be back to their normal routine once they walk out of the office.

Other forms of oral sedation are not as forgiving.

If you do have any other form of sedation, you will want to adhere to the following recommendations:

  • On the day of the procedure, be sure to rest and take it as easy as possible.
  • Refrain from consuming any form of alcohol for the first day or two
  • Avoid driving the first day and even the second if you don’t feel like yourself
  • Wait to eat until any numbness wears off

We will need to numb the site of the procedure, even if you have laughing gas or take a sedation pill. If your mouth is numb, there’s a risk of biting your tongue or cheek until the numbness is gone.

One of the biggest mistakes patients can make is that they undergo sedation therapy and attempt to drive themselves home. You will not be able to drive home if you’re administered a pill sedative. A family member or friend who you can rely on should be scheduled for the day of your appointment so that you can get home safely.

Sedation therapy is a good option for many of our patients, and the risk of side effects is relatively low. If you have anxiety and fear when you sit in our dental chair, you may be a good candidate for sedation.

Our team will evaluate your anxiety and fear and recommend the best form of sedation for you. Currently we provide oral sedation, nitrous is normally found in pediatric or specialty offices.

Most patients find sedation dentistry a very peaceful experience and prefer to have all treatment done under sedation after their first visit.

Bed hovering over clouds
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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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