At one time, those who needed dental work were given a shot of whiskey and something to grab onto. By the 1840s, nitrous oxide and ether were available, but it wasn’t until after the 1853 invention of the hypodermic needle and hollow syringe that true dental anesthesia was possible. Today, varying levels of dental anesthesia can render dental work virtually pain-free. Here are the benefits of different types of dental anesthesia.
The benefits of local anesthesia are clear and undeniable. It is what allows dental work to be performed virtually painlessly. Novocain was once the local anesthesia of choice, but other “caine” anesthetics such as lidocaine are more common today. They last longer, work more completely, cause fewer side effects, and are less likely to cause allergic reactions.
Local anesthesia, mixed with other chemicals to enhance its performance, is injected into the mouth. “Block” injections numb a whole section of the mouth, while “infiltration” injections numb smaller areas. Local anesthesia can sting when injected, so many dentists today use a topical numbing gel first.
Unless you are allergic to the particular medication, local anesthesia has few drawbacks. The primary concern is that you will need to be careful when using your mouth for several hours, as the medication takes some time to wear off, and you could accidentally bite your tongue, lip, or cheek without realizing it.
Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is a mild sedation agent. You will breathe a carefully titrated blend of nitrogen and oxygen through a mask over your nose. You will remain awake and able to respond, but will feel relaxed and unafraid. The effects wear off in minutes, making it safe for you to drive home.
The major benefit of nitrous oxide is how quickly it takes effect and then wears off. You do not need to do any particular advance preparation, and reaching the desired level of sedation adds only a few minutes to your total appointment time. Within minutes of removing the mask, you should feel completely normal again.
Nitrous oxide has few drawbacks. If the concentration of nitrogen is too high, you might feel drunk, dizzy, and somewhat out of control, but this is easily remedied by your dentist or assistant dialing back the nitrogen level.
Oral sedation is the use of pills such as Halcion or Valium. You may feel moderately sedated under the effects of these pills, but you will not be entirely knocked out. You will remain able to follow instructions, but you might fall asleep in the dental chair. Grogginess can last the rest of the day.
A strong benefit of oral sedation is that it is self-administered. Your dentist will give you a prescription in advance and tell you when to take the medication, but you can plan your schedule accordingly. Another benefit is that oral sedation causes deeper relaxation than nitrous oxide, which can be extremely helpful for very nervous patients.
The biggest drawback to oral sedation is how long it takes to wear off. You must bring someone to your appointment to drive you home, and you will feel exhausted and somewhat odd for approximately 24 hours.
A lighter version of general anesthesia, IV sedation induces “twilight sleep.” You will not be unconscious, but you will be unable to focus and will most likely sleep through your dental procedure. IV sedation should always be administered by a board-certified anesthesiologist who will continue to monitor you throughout your appointment.
You will be easy to rouse, but you will remain extremely tired and out of it for the next 24 hours. You will need to have someone drive you home and remain with you throughout the night, as caring for yourself will be difficult.
The main benefit of IV sedation is that it can make dental work possible for extremely phobic patients, as well as those with certain special needs, who would otherwise need to be treated in a hospital under general anesthesia. However, the level of sedation and subsequent inability to function normally are significant drawbacks.
Except under unusual circumstances, today’s dental procedures are generally possible solely with modern local anesthesia. Still, there are advantages of adding sedation for those who are nervous or are having complex work performed. We will go through your options with you and help you choose the best solution for you.
Ready to Get Started?
If you are ready to take the first steps toward improving your dental health, we invite you to contact Family Dental Care of Bellevue today at 425-643-5778 to make an appointment for your initial consultation.
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