Sedation Dentistry: An option for people afraid of going to the dentist
Several studies estimate that one in every five people are afraid of the dentist, experience dental anxiety, or are dental phobic as a result of a negative dental appointment experience in the recent past or as a kid growing up. If you or a loved one are among the twenty percent, know you are not alone.
While no one can’t erase your or a loved one’s past dental experience, recent advancements in digital technology and dental materials coupled with sedation dentistry options enable people with severe dental anxiety about going to the dentist to do so—and even have a positive dental appointment experience.
I encourage you to keep reading to learn more about how sedation dentistry can help you or a loved one to resolve and complete necessary preventive care and restorative dental treatment. In this article, we are going to cover:
- Types of sedation dentistry
- Why sedation dentistry is so popular
- Cost of sedation dentistry
Let’s begin by first understanding what sedation dentistry is and the different types of sedation available.
Sedation dentistry is conscious sedation—not sleep dentistry
Sedation dentistry (also called conscious sedation) includes a combination of medicines that are administered to provide a relaxing and anxiety-free experience for people who are apprehensive to undergo preventive and/or restorative dental treatment.
Sedation dentistry is conscious sedation—not general anesthesia. Sedation dentistry does not “put you to sleep” or “knock you out” such that you’re completely unaware of your surroundings.
Under conscious sedation, you remain awake and are able if necessary to communicate and respond to questions. Conscious sedation temporarily diminishes your fight or flight and pain receptors to afford you to a nearly pain-free dental appointment experience.
There are three types of conscious sedation used in dentistry
- Nitrous oxide aka laughing gas
- Oral sedation
- IV or intravenous sedation (administered through a vein)
Let’s begin by learning more about nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas.
Nitrous oxide enables anxious patients to relax during dental treatment
Nitrous oxide (also called laughing gas) is a safe, popular, and highly effective sedative agent that is mixed with oxygen and inhaled through a small, fitted mask that covers your nose to help you feel relaxed while receiving dental treatment.
After dental treatment has been completed, the nitrous oxide mixture will be flushed from your body by breathing 100% oxygen until analgesic effects are no longer felt.
Does laughing gas really make a person laugh?
We’re often asked if using nitrous oxide really makes a person laugh. While the right dosage of nitrous oxide mixture affects everyone differently, it is not uncommon for a person to feel euphoric, light-headed, tingling, and/or warm. Since laughing gas makes you happy (euphoric feeling), it can also make you laugh more easily (hence the name).
Nitrous oxide plus the use of an oral sedative is a popular option to consider—especially if you have a fear of needles.
Oral conscious sedation is an excellent choice for people who fear needles
Oral sedation is a great option for people with mild to moderate levels of fear and anxiety about going to the dentist. Especially people who are
- Very afraid of needles
- Highly sensitive to touch and/or are claustrophobic
- Repulsed by the sounds and smells associated with completing dental treatment
In order to induce a moderate feeling of sedation, an oral sedative is often provided 30-60 minutes prior to your dental appointment.
Most of the drugs used in oral conscious sedation dentistry are classified as benzodiazepines. Benzodiazepines effectively subdue a person’s sense of pain, smell, and noises that often elicit dental fear and anxiety.
Pair oral sedation with nitrous oxide for an even greater, enhanced effect
Many dental phobic patients elect to use nitrous oxide and an oral sedative together for an enhanced sedative effect.
Important note: It is important to know that while oral sedatives do not cause sleep, they do make a person feel sleepy and less alert of their surroundings. For safety reasons, it is standard practice for your dentist to require an adult, licensed driver to bring
you to and from your dental appointment if you elect oral conscious sedation for your dental appointment.
The last option of sedation dentistry is IV or intravenous sedation. As the name implies, this form of conscious sedation is administered through the dental patient’s vein.
IV sedation medication is administered into the bloodstream through a vein
Since the medication is administered directly into the bloodstream, the sedation effect for the phobic dental patient is almost immediate. IV sedation offers a higher level of sedation than nitrous oxide or oral sedation and is most often used for:
- Wisdom tooth extractions
- Placement of dental implants
- Extensive, complex, and/or invasive dental treatment needs that would normally require multiple dental visits to complete
Because sedative medication is administered through a vein, it allows the medication to work very quickly. It also enables the dentist to adjust the level of sedation as necessary to complete dental treatment.
Regardless of which type of conscious sedation you elect, a local anesthetic will still be necessary to complete treatment. You’ll remain in a conscious, semi-awake state and be able to communicate with the dentist if necessary. Because most patients have little or even no memory of the procedures, people often think that they were “put to sleep” or “knocked out” during their dental procedure.
As stated previously, sleepiness is a common side effect of sedative medications, therefore an adult, licensed driver is required to bring you to and from your dental appointment.
Only dentists who have completed advanced education can administer IV sedation for dental treatment
While most dentists are licensed to administer nitrous oxide and dispense oral sedatives, administration of sedative medications intravenously requires dentists to complete additional specialized training via the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) in deep anesthesia and general anesthesia program. Most often, the dentists who elect to complete this additional training are specialists like oral and maxillofacial surgeons and periodontists.
So far this article has discussed available options regarding sedation dentistry and how sedation can help people who are afraid of the dentist to now go. But fear is not the only reason why sedation dentistry has become so popular. Let’s find out why else.
Why is sedation dentistry so popular?
Dental fear is the #1 reason for why adults request sedation dentistry
An estimated one in five people do not visit a dentist annually because they’re too afraid or suffer from dental anxiety. This is unfortunate, especially since advancements in digital technology and dental materials have resolved or improved many of things we strongly disliked as kids when going to the dentist.
A negative dental appointment experience plus not having seen a dentist in a long-time oftentimes lead to feelings of embarrassment that seemingly escalates as time passes.
Listed below is a compiled list of the most common dental fears expressed from actual patients who used to be afraid of the dentist. Can you or a loved one relate to or have experienced any of the following?
Most common dental fears
- Uncaring dentist
- Loss of Control (feeling powerless)
- Humiliation (being scolded, judged, or lectured)
- Vicarious learning from others who tell “horror stories”
- Can’t get numb
- Painful injection
- Needle phobia and fainting
- Bad reaction to anesthetic
- Sights, sounds, and smells
- The drill
- Feeling numb
- Unnecessary treatment
- Wrong tooth
- Crying and/or afraid of making a fool of yourself
- Fear of panic attack
- Abuse survivors
- Being awake
- Post-Traumatic Stress
The list above was compiled from reading comments on Dental Fear Central, an online resource and forum for dental phobia information.
Dentistry for the Entire Family specializes in working with long-time absent patients and we will NEVER scold, lecture, or judge you or your loved no matter how long its been. We encourage you to read our reviews from hundreds of our existing patients. As you read, you’ll see that we keep our promise and gain insight into what it’s like to be a patient in our dental office.
Now that you better understand sedation dentistry, you’re likely wondering how much does sedation dentistry cost and if it’s a covered benefit under your dental insurance plan. Let’s find out.
How much does sedation dentistry cost?
How much does sedation dentistry cost is a frequently asked question. The cost varies and is dependant upon a number of variables including:
- Type of sedation
- Dental procedure(s) being performed
- Dental benefits plan coverage
Cost of sedation VS benefit
The benefit of completing necessary dental care far outweighs the cost of postponing dental care. A broken or painful tooth will not be resolved without a visit to your dentist. Many people who are afraid of the dentist will try and take over-the-counter pain relievers and/or apply a topical ointment to the area like Anbesol. At best, they’ll provide temporary relief.
All too often, delaying treatment will only lead to more pain that can prevent you from sleeping and for a broken or chipped tooth, it’s likely that more and more tooth may break or chip away making your tooth restoration options more complex and expensive to restore.
Generally speaking, costs associated with sedation are far less than the cost of postponing dental care. At Dentistry for the Entire Family, nitrous oxide is a patient favorite and costs on average $50 per appointment. A small price to pay in exchange for a positive, nearly painless dental visit for the most extreme dental phobic patient.
Does dental insurance coverage include sedation dentistry?
Some do, most don’t. Most insurance providers consider using nitrous oxide as elective, “nice to have” but not necessary (in their eyes) in order to complete most dental procedures. That being said, there are a small handful of plans whose coverage does include nitrous oxide, therefore we recommend that you contact your insurance provider or ask us to check for you before scheduling to know for sure.
Don’t let fear of cost prevent you from completing necessary treatment
A large majority of people have some type of dental care coverage. The percent of coverage and annual maximum will vary plan to plan. And because there is not a single plan that covers 100% of preventive, restorative, and elective dental procedures, most often there will be a portion of your dental services that will be your responsibility to pay for. For many, cost is the #1 reason people give for why they do not complete necessary dental treatment.
A comprehensive new-patient exam visit will clarify your needs and associated costs
Before worrying about how much dental treatment will cost and how you’ll afford it, we strongly recommend for you to schedule a comprehensive exam so you can know for sure. Many patients are surprised to find out that their mouth is in better shape than they thought. Plus, starting with an exam is a great way to meet and get to know our team before scheduling any treatment.
A comprehensive new-patient exam visit includes:
- Review of medical and dental history
- Discuss and understand what your chief concerns are regarding your oral health
- Take or update any necessary digital x-rays
- Examine and record integrity of existing restorations
- Examine your TMJ and how your teeth bite together
- Perform an oral cancer screening evaluation
- Take a series of high definition photos of your smile, facial profile, and teeth
- Perform a comprehensive periodontal (gum disease) examination
Following your exam, the dentist will review his/her findings with you. For any recommended treatment, the dentist will take the time to explain your options, the pros and cons for each, so you can make an informed decision regarding dental treatment.
You’ll also have an opportunity to meet with one of our treatment coordinators who will provide you with the financial details and answer any questions you may have regarding scheduling and paying for dental treatment.
Affordable dental care
No one to date that we know of has a gold brick buried in their backyard to help pay for unexpected expenses. Fortunately there are other options available. Listed below are a few options to consider.
- Pay with cash from a savings account
- Pay upfront with a credit card and make monthly payments that fit your budget
- Pre-pay cash in advance of scheduling dental care in payments that fit within your budget (non-emergency dental needs)
- Apply for a line of Care-Credit (a line of credit to help afford medical/dental care)
If the options above are not feasible and necessary dental treatment is not emergency, let your dentist know. It may be possible to slow the pace at which your dental treatment is completed. Perhaps, instead of completing one area of the mouth at a time, maybe you elect to complete 1-2 teeth at a time instead. This would help to reduce your out-of-pocket costs and enable you to still complete treatment at a pace that works within your budget.
If you do this, know that your dental treatment plan, tooth restoration options, and treatment costs could change (more of a tooth breaks, or decay grows and/or spreads to adjacent teeth.
Interested and want to learn more about sedation dentistry?
When you’re ready, we are here for you. Call (763) 586-9988 or send us an email to request an appointment or to ask us any questions. We’re here to help and are known for helping people who are afraid of the dentist or have had a negative dental appointment experience in the past. We look forward to meeting you soon!
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