Conscious Sedation: What It Is and What to Expect

College Students Discussing Conscious Sedation and Wisdom Teeth

Have you ever feared getting dental treatment? Perhaps your dentist recommended that you get your wisdom teeth out and you're dreading the procedure. The truth is, dental anxiety is very common among adults and children, but it should not be a reason to avoid necessary dental care. Thankfully, conscious sedation is a readily available option that can leave you with nothing to worry about.

What Is Conscious Sedation?

As the National Institutes of Health (NIH) explains, this type of sedation involves a dental professional administering a combination of medications to block pain and help you relax. The drug used to block the pain is referred to as an anesthetic, and the medication that helps you relax is called a sedative. During the procedure, you will stay awake or fall into a light sleep, but you will not feel anxious due to the calming effects of the medications.

According to the American Society of Anesthesiologists (ASA), conscious sedation is often used for minor surgeries or short procedures for which a local anesthetic isn't quite enough to manage the pain. It's often used for wisdom teeth removal, as the Mayo Clinic notes, and during dental prosthetic surgery, according to the NIH.

What to Expect Under Sedation

This technique is not as strong as general anesthesia, which renders you unconscious. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), you will still be able to respond willingly to any verbal commands — either on your own or with a light touch as a signal — during moderate conscious sedation.

As the NIH explains, this type of sedation can be administered via injection into a muscle or an IV that is placed in a vein. The medication will take effect in a short time frame, and your anxiety will begin to melt away almost immediately. The medication can also be administered as an oral pill, but it may take longer — up to an hour — for you to feel its effects.

During the procedure, you most likely won't need breathing assistance, as you will still be able to breathe on your own. Your dental provider may give you an extra oxygen boost, according to the NIH. They will also monitor you throughout the entire procedure to ensure you stay safe.

What to Expect After the Procedure

According to the ASA, you will likely feel sleepy after the sedation, and your dental provider will monitor you as you recover and regain full consciousness. You may or may not have a faint memory of the dental procedure.

Some of the side effects of conscious sedation can include headaches, nausea and drowsiness. Fortunately, these issues are less common with moderate sedation, as compared with general anesthesia, explains the ASA. Patients can generally go home within one to two hours, according to the NIH.

Before administering conscious sedation, a dentist will thoroughly evaluate your medical history and existing medications, explains the ADA. If they find any serious health considerations, they may consult your primary care physician, as your safety is always their top priority. If you have any questions about sedation or an upcoming dental procedure, consult your dental professional.

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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  1. Preparation – If you need local anesthesia, your dentist will dry part of your mouth with air or use cotton rolls. Then your dentist will swab the area with a gel to numb the skin.

  2. Injection – Next, your dentist will slowly inject the local anesthetic into the gum tissue. Most people don't feel the needle. Instead, the sting they feel is caused by the anesthetic moving into the tissue.

  3. After effects – An injection of local anesthesia can last up to several hours. After you leave the dentist's office, you may find it difficult to speak clearly and eat or drink. Be careful not to bite down on the area that is numbed. You could cause damage to yourself without realizing it.