Find a Doctor

Sedation Dentistry


Sedation dentistry is a term that refers to the use of anesthesia during treatment to put patients into a relaxed state, almost like sleep. Sedation dentistry is often used during procedures that require an extensive amount of time in the treatment chair, and sedation is ideal for patients who exhibit dental phobia or have difficulty controlling their movements. While sedation dentistry implies that patients are unconscious, this is usually not the case. Some forms of sedation dentistry simply alleviate anxiety or put patients in a sleep-like state, so that little is felt or remembered from the dentistry procedure.


Depending on the extent of the anxiety or phobia, varying degrees of dental sedation can be utilized, including conscious sedation with sedatives, inhalation nitrous oxide sedation, and intravenous (IV) sedation. These sedation dentistry techniques enable patients who might otherwise avoid the dentist to receive dental treatment necessary for a healthy smile. There are four types of dental sedation methods used by sedation dentists today:

  • Oral sedatives: Oral sedative medications such as diazepam can be given to a patient the night before a dentistry procedure or 30 minutes to an hour before the dental appointment, depending on the severity of the anxiety. Oral sedatives do not provide pain relief, so an injection of local anesthetic will also be administered.
  • Intravenous (IV) sedation: Like oral sedatives, intravenous (IV) sedation does not provide pain relief, so an injection of local anesthetic will also be administered in conjunction with this method of dental sedation.
  • Nitrous Oxide Sedation: In one form of conscious inhalation sedation, nitrous oxide gas (also known as laughing gas) is used to induce a state of relaxation. A local anesthetic will be administered in combination with nitrous oxide sedation to eliminate pain.
  • General Anesthesia: This method of dental sedation refers to the use of anesthetic to render the patient unconscious. Unlike other sedation methods, the patient will be completely unaware of his or her surroundings, making the use of local anesthetic unnecessary.

Degrees of Dental Sedation

The four dental sedation methods listed above can provide varying degrees of sedation. These include:

  • Anxiolysis: This refers to methods of inducing "light sedation." There are several forms of sedatives that result in anxiolysis; however, nitrous oxide, a form of inhalation sedation, is the most commonly used method to bring on this type of relaxation.
  • Conscious sedation: Moderate dental sedation can refer to either nitrous oxide or IV sedation. These sedatives can induce conscious sedation, where the patient will be awake and able to respond to commands, but will be in a state of extreme relaxation.
  • Deep sedation: Deep sedation refers to a state between unconscious and conscious dental sedation. Patients will not be able to respond to commands in a consistent manner and may need some assistance with breathing in the event that they are unable to keep their airway open.
  • Unconsciousness: General anesthesia causes the airway to close. As a result, patients will need assistance with breathing and will not respond to commands. This method of dental sedation is reserved for oral surgery.

Dental Anxiety

It is estimated that approximately 30 to 40 million Americans avoid seeing the dentist because of dental anxiety or dental phobia (fear of dentists). People with dental anxiety have fears that are often greatly exaggerated and overwhelming. Severe dental phobia is a more serious condition, causing those affected to cancel or avoid their dental appointments altogether. Various sedation dentistry techniques can be used to treat those who suffer from dental anxiety or dental phobia.

Many people who experience dental phobia are hesitant when visiting a dentist. They often have a fear of the office, the equipment, or the dentist themselves. Individuals that suffer from this dental anxiety frequently delay their appointments, hoping to avoid the experience altogether.

Severe Dental Phobia

Dental anxiety can also turn into severe dental phobia, making a dental appointment an overall horrific experience. People with severe dental phobia are terrified and panic-stricken when it comes time to see the dentist and they often avoid the dental appointment completely. If they do force themselves to go, they usually do not sleep the night before or may become sick in the waiting room.

Many patients with severe dental phobia have put off dental treatment for years because of their fear of dentists, resulting in poor oral health. Individuals suffering from dental anxiety or severe dental phobia commonly have infected gums and teeth, severely compromising their ability to chew and digest food properly. Many also lack self-confidence and feel insecure because of bad breath or an unattractive smile.

Children and Dental Anxiety

Some children have a deep-seated fear of dentists, making dental appointments a traumatizing experience. However, it is important that children have regular dental checkups. There are tips for dealing with children who have dental anxiety or severe dental phobia, including:

  • Start dental checkups at an early age, so the child will be comfortable and familiar with dental appointments.
  • Enforce good oral hygiene, so trips to the dentist are minimal.
  • Be careful not to convey your fears of the dentist to your child.

Another option to treat a child's dental anxiety is to find a dentist who specializes in pediatric care. Pediatric dentists have special training that allows them to help anxious children feel safe and secure during dental checkups and procedures. They also offer kid-friendly offices, so the environment is inviting and comfortable for children.

If not addressed during younger years, dental anxiety can develop into severe dental phobia as one gets older. To prevent bad oral hygiene later in life, the above suggestions can work to calm your child's fear of dentists.

Candidates for Dental Sedation

While sedation dentistry is not for everyone, it may be the answer you've been seeking for yourself or a loved one. Sedation dentistry could be right for you if you exhibit any of the following:

  • Dental anxiety
  • Sensitive teeth
  • Difficulty getting numb
  • Complex dental issues
  • Fear of needles
  • Limited time to complete dental work
  • Traumatic dental experiences
  • Difficulty controlling movement

Patients with cerebral palsy or Parkinson's disease sometimes are unable to control their movements. This can impede these patients from getting the dental care they need. Sedation dentistry can relax a patient so that involuntary movements don't interfere with dental work.

Patients who have a medical condition should notify their dentist about the condition prior to a sedation dentistry procedure. Patients should also notify their dentist about any medications they are currently taking. Any previous allergic reactions to medications should also be reported to the sedation dentist. Sedation dentistry is generally reserved for patients who are 18 years old and older. However, there are pediatric sedation dentists available to treat children who cannot tolerate dental work.


The cost of sedation dentistry depends largely on your individual insurance coverage, geographic location, and dentist. Costs can range from a few hundred dollars to over a thousand, depending on the type of sedation used. The most common method is light sedation with oral sedatives or nitrous oxide gas, both of which typically cost from $225 to slightly over $300. The actual dental treatment being performed is not included in this price.

The sedation methods used less often in dentistry include I.V. sedation and general anesthesia, the latter of which is reserved almost exclusively for dental surgery. These forms of sedation are accompanied by additional risks, as well as additional costs, and may not be necessary for you to receive the treatment you need. However, for some patients, I.V. sedation and, to a lesser extent, general anesthesia are considered appropriate. To learn more about your sedation dentistry needs, and the costs involved, contact a reputable sedation dentist in your area.

Pricing Breakdown

  • Oral sedation costs from $225 to slightly over $300
  • I.V. sedation, general anesthesia, and other forms of sedation administered by a dental anesthesiologist are billed hourly, and thus vary
  • The cost of dental procedures is separate from the cost of sedation
  • Sedation dentistry is typically not covered by insurance

Sedation Dentistry Financing

Many dentists offering sedation dentistry to their patients accept not only the traditional forms of payment (cash, checks, and credit cards), but also financing options. Many sedation dentistry providers now accept financing plans from nationally recognized companies. They may also accept financing plans from local companies.

When making an appointment with a sedation dentistry provider in your area, inquire about the financing options available at the practice. Not only will the office staff inform you of the payment plans available, but most will help you apply for financing as well.

Find a Sedation Dentist

If you are one of the millions of Americans apprehensive about receiving dental care, DocShop can help you find a sedation dentist in your area.

Want More Information?

Contact a Doctor Near You.