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The 411 On Dental Anesthesia

Going to the dentist has a reputation for being uncomfortable at times. That's because dental procedures have the potential to cause pain, anxiety, and discomfort. Luckily, anesthesia is available as an option to ease your experience in the most comfortable way possible. And we've got you covered on the 411 of everything about dentist anesthesia.

Here's a look into what anesthesia is all about, dental anesthesia side effects, and when to ask for help if the side effects of dental anesthesia bother you. Remember to work with your dental professional to choose the right option for you.

What is Anesthesia?

Anesthesia is a medical treatment that inhibits people from feeling pain when undergoing surgery. Because of Anesthesia, people benefit from procedures that lead to healthier and longer lives. Although Anesthesia isn't a new concept, its benefits are still something to smile about.

When Is Anesthesia Needed?

Although routine trips to the dentist usually involve a simple yearly dental hygiene appointment, sometimes more work is needed to keep your teeth healthy. Some common procedures that typically require anesthesia include tooth extractions, wisdom teeth removal, root canals, and filling cavities. Out of all of these instances filling cavities is the most common use of dental anesthesia.

Anesthesia Types

Dental anesthesia is generally broken into three types: local, sedation, and general.

Local anesthesia. Local anesthesia, as the American Dental Association (ADA) describes, is used to prevent pain in a specific area of your mouth by blocking the nerves that sense or transmit pain, numbing the mouth tissue. A topical anesthetic may be used to numb an area before your oral care provider injects a local anesthetic. Here are some uses of local anesthesia the ADA mentions:

  • Topical anesthetics are used to soothe mouth sores.
  • Injectable anesthetics may be used to fill cavities, prepare teeth for crowns, or treat gum disease.

Sedation. There are various levels of sedation, from minimal to deep. According to the American Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons (AAOMS), minimal sedation involves the localization of an anesthetic with the calming effects of “laughing gas.” Deep sedation involves a complete depression of consciousness with the ability to awake the person if necessary. Sedation is used for the following, says the AAOMS:

  • Minimal sedation can be used to relieve anxiety from simple procedures.
  • It is also used in more involved procedures like removing wisdom teeth or the placement of dental implants.
  • More moderate sedation can be used for the treatment of impacted wisdom teeth.

General anesthesia. When you think of "being put to sleep" for surgery, you're thinking of general anesthesia. This type of anesthesia impacts the whole body, putting people in a relaxed, unconscious state to undergo a procedure without any awareness of the process. The intention behind general anesthesia is that the person doesn't wake up or feel anything during the procedure. General anesthesia is used for:

  • Wisdom tooth removal
  • Dental implant placement
  • Other more extensive oral surgical procedures

According to the AAOMS, your oral or maxillofacial surgeon and/or dentist will determine the best option for you as anesthesia needs vary for different people.

Side Effects of Dental Anesthesia

It's also important to discuss the potential side effects of dental anesthesia with your dental professional before undergoing any procedure. This allows you to feel prepared and confident in your treatment option, which is something to smile about.

Side effects of local anesthesia in dentistry tend to be rare. Sometimes numbness is felt beyond the affected part of the mouth. Eyelids and cheek muscles can also droop until the numbness subsides. Other less common concerns include:

  • temporarily losing the ability to blink
  • hematomas (blood outside a blood vessel)
  • a racing heartbeat
  • nerve damage (very rare)

Side effects of sedation can include headache, nausea, and drowsiness. These side effects usually do not last long. Other side effects of sedation are:

  • A headache a few days after the procedure
  • Pain at the site of the needle
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Hematoma
  • Nerve damage (very rare)

Your dental professional should monitor general anesthesia side effects during and after treatment. Here are the side effects of general anesthesia:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • A sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Itches
  • Confusion when regaining consciousness
  • Chills and shivering, hypothermia

Rarely, general anesthesia has the potential to cause more serious complications like postoperative delirium or cognitive dysfunction, where memory loss is more long-term.

Malignant hyperthermia is another rare complication from general anesthesia, which is a serious reaction to anesthesia that can occur during surgery. It's important to tell your dentist or surgeon if you or your family member have suffered from malignant hyperthermia or experienced a heat stroke during surgery in the past.

What If Side Effects Bother Me?

If you have any concerns about side effects after undergoing a dental anesthesia procedure, reach out to your dental professional right away. It's vital to take an active role in your dental care, especially when it comes to surgery, and we encourage you to do so.

Dentists treat millions of patients with anesthesia safely every year. Your dental professional will guide you in what anesthesia is best for your procedure. It's essential to understand your dental treatment's risks and benefits and always let your dental team know if side effects come up. The key is that you and your dental professional work together so that you can stay comfortable, healthy, and smiley.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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