Is Sleep Dentistry for You?

Many people have experienced fear of the dentist to some degree. In fact, it is estimated that around three-quarters of the American population experience at least a mild level of anxiety when getting dental care services. The factors that cause concern can be numerous, from the fear of pain and injury to bad experiences that an individual has come to associate with visits to the dentists since childhood.

More rare, however, are cases of dental phobia, which can be described as actual excessive or unreasonable fear of dentists, dental visits, or dental procedures. According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSMMD), the prevalence of dental phobia is between 2.4% to 3.7% of the population, similar to the prevalence rates of fear of snakes, heights, and injuries.

Dental phobia is an issue that deserves attention because of its implications on public health. The DSMMD notes that individuals with this type of phobia tend to exhibit decreased likelihood of actively seeking out dental treatments and health services, which in turn causes poor dental health among these people. If many individuals are willing to endure the pain caused by dental problems as well as the likelihood of developing serious infections just so they could avoid going to the dentist, then clearly, these people need help. Smarter and more effective solutions are needed to make dental health services more accessible to them.

What is sleep or sedation dentistry?

If you are extremely apprehensive about going to the dentist, then sleep dentistry might be for you. Also known as sedation dentistry, sleep dentistry involves the use of pharmacological agents to help patients relax or sleep when they undergo dental procedures.

Patients who go this route can choose to go through dental procedures under general anesthesia, which will actually make them fully unconscious and fall asleep. In many cases, however, patients are just sedated to varying degrees. They can be fully conscious and simply relaxed, or they can also be on the cusp of sleep but can still be awakened if necessary.

The sedation agents can be administered in several ways and can vary from dental practice to dental practice.

  • Inhalation – Minimal sedation can be achieved by letting the patient breathe nitrous oxide gas.
  • Oral – The patient can take a sedative pill or liquid, which will make them feel drowsy. The person can be minimally or moderately sedated.
  • Intravenous – A drug can also be administered into the patient’s bloodstream through a vein, which allows the sedation to take effect more quickly.
  • General anesthesia – An individual will receive a drug or a combination of drugs to induce coma and total relaxation. The patient will not be able to wake up immediately until the effects of the drugs subside completely or unless an additional medication is given to reverse the effects. Anesthetic agents may be administered through various routes, including inhalation, oral, and injections (intravenous, intramuscular, or subcutaneous).

The benefits of sleep dentistry

The most obvious benefit of sleep dentistry for patients is that they will not have to encounter the anxiety and fear they usually go through when going to dental appointments. Imagine what a relief it would be for dental phobics to know that they won’t be afraid to visit the dentist ever again.

Since the patient is sedated, complex dental procedures can also be accomplished more quickly because the patient won’t be feeling any pain or discomfort. When they wake up, patients usually have little to no memory of the experience at all.

One word of advice, though: Before going to a dental appointment where you’ll be sedated, make sure to arrange how you’re going to be transported to and from the dental practice. Obviously, you wouldn’t be able to drive on your own, so you have to have family or friends who can assist you and drive you safely to your destination after you receive treatment.

About the Author


David S. Frey, DDS is a cosmetic dentist with 20 years of professional experience. He is one of the most trusted names in cosmetic and restorative dentistry in California’s Beverly Hills area. Dr. Frey also writes for his own blog where you can find tips on oral health care.