While the use of a local anesthetic to prevent pain is sufficient for many dental patients, sedation or general anesthesia may be appropriate to ensure the safe, efficient and competent delivery of dental procedures.

Sedation or general anesthesia is determined on a case-by-case basis and may be recommended for patients that:

  • Experience high anxiety due to fear or low tolerance to pain - it can help to prevent or address dental phobias (fear of the dentist);
  • Have an allergy to local aesthetic or for whom local anesthetic is not effective in pain control;
  • Require complex or invasive dental procedures, or dental procedures that would otherwise require multiple visits if performed without sedation;
  • Experience a choking sensation (an exaggerated gag reflex), or have difficulty opening their mouth for a sustained period of time;
  • Are unable to remain still during the dental treatment (due to a mental or physical disability);
  • Are medically compromised or have special health care requirements.

Any decision regarding sedatives is based on an individual assessment and discussion with your dentist. Also, learn more about the use of sedation and general anesthesia in treating children.

Is sedation and general anesthesia safe?

Dental patients often don’t realize that dental procedures are surgical and as with all surgery, there is some degree of risk. Sedation and general anesthesia are safely and effectively used for thousands of dental procedures each year. What can patients do?

  • Confirm that your dentist is qualified and registered to provide the level of sedation recommended for you and the procedure you’re having.
  • Follow any pre- and post-sedation instructions provided by your dentist.
  • Provide your dentist with a detailed medical update before your treatment including any changes to your health; or recent health concerns (such as dizziness, difficulty breathing); and a full list of any medications you’re taking.
  • If you have any pre-existing medical conditions, your dentist may also consult with your physician in advance of your dental treatment.
  • Let your dentist know about any previous experiences with sedation or general anesthesia.

If you have any questions about your dental treatment, or the level of sedation recommended, talk to your dentist before your treatment.

What are the effects of sedation or general anesthesia?

Depending on the level of sedation, it can be completely normal to feel drowsy and have limited recollection of your appointment.

For all types of sedation, mild, moderate, deep sedation or general anesthetic, it is expected that your coordination and reasoning skills may be impacted for up to 24 hours following treatment. Your dental office will request that you have a friend or family member pick you up from the appointment, and that you not drive.

Talk to your dentist before treatment about any expected side-effects for the level of sedation that you will have.

What is the most common method of sedation?

The most common form of sedation in dentistry is the use of minimal sedation, such as nitrous oxide (by inhaling through a mask) or taking a sedative, such as Ativan, to relax the patient. Nitrous oxide is provided in conjunction with oxygen. It enables a patient to maintain consciousness in a sedated state. As the level of sedation increases it may be used in conjunction with other medications to temporarily increase its effectiveness, and may cause a little drowsiness.

Review the complete FAQ on Sedation and General Anesthesia​.