Sleep dentistry is a great option if you're afraid of the dentist. It involves taking a pill that induces a state of amnesia or sleep for the duration of the dental appointment. Here we list some of the advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages of sleep dentistry

You will have little memory of the procedure. You do need enough trust of the dentist to be able to "let yourself go" and be willing to go to sleep. If you have dental fear but are still willing to trust the dentist so that you do not want to know what is happening, then this is a great treatment.


If you have problems getting numb for dental procedures, the relaxation induced by sedation dentistry medication strengthens the anesthetic so that you will be numb for the entire procedure.


Another advantage is that this enables you to get a lot of dental work done in one sitting. With the knowledge that you are comfortable, the dentist can concentrate more fully on the procedures. There is no conversation, no shifting of body position, no drifting closed of the mouth. And, with sleep dentistry, you are able to endure long and complex dental procedures.


This also works well for particularly traumatic dental procedures such as tooth extractions or root canal treatments or gum surgery.


If you have needle phobia, this works well. Sleep dentistry doesn't eliminate the need for local anesthetic injections. Without the local anesthetic, you would feel some pain. But taking the sedative pill will cause you to not be aware of the injection.


If you get very anxious during dental work, if you tend to faint, or get sweaty palms, this will take away all of those anxieties.


This can also help you get over your fears. My experience is that when people had dental phobia so that we used sleep dentistry to treat them, after a few appointments, we could cut back on the sedative. In many cases, they eventually got over their phobia and were able to have regular dental treatment without any sedative medications.

Disadvantages of sleep dentistry

But this isn't for everyone. If your fears are mild, nitrous oxide works very well. The chief disadvantage of using sedative medication is that its effect lingers in your body and you can't drive home or go back to work until the effects have worn off. Nitrous oxide wears off immediately so that you can drive home and otherwise function normally.


Also, on the other end of the spectrum, if your fears are severe, then this won't be strong enough for you and you'll need general anesthesia. If you simply don't trust the dentist and try to fight off the sedative because you want to know what's going on, then the pill you take won't force you into an unconscious state.


Some people are also very scared of being sedated. If that is the case with you, you need general anesthesia.


Cost may also be a factor. Sedation adds expense to the procedure. And the more elaborate, the more expensive. Nitrous oxide is relatively inexpensive. Sleep dentistry with pills isn't terribly expensive, though special monitoring equipment is required which makes it not cheap. If you go to intravenous sedation or general anesthesia, the cost will likely be into the hundreds of dollars.


In some states, dental boards are suspicious of sleep dentistry and very unsympathetic to the patients who have dental fears, which greatly restricts its availability. Iowa is such a state. This can be a limiting factor if this is what you feel you need.


There are also certain medical conditions that may contraindicate the use of certain types of sedation drugs.


Another factor is that during the appointment, if you are sedated, you won't be able to confer with the dentist about treatment options that may arise because of unexpected findings. You will need to trust your dentist enough to do what is best for you in those circumstances.


Read Dr. Hall's blog posts about sedation dentistry, where he answers questions from visitors. He also has postings about dental fear.

By Dr. David Hall

Written by a cosmetic dentist!

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