The Risks of Sedation Dentistry
Some people would rather live with the pain of a tooth abscess or cavity than visit their dentist. And for people with that level of fear, sedation dentistry is a godsend. It allows patients to relax during procedures or even cleanings so that they can have a healthier mouth.
But while sedation is important for providing anxiety-free dentistry to those who live in fear of the dentist’s chair, it doesn’t come without risks. Fortunately, for most people in good health, the risks of sedation dentistry are minimal. “There are certain risks associated with any type of sedation, but they’re virtually non-existent for healthy adults,” says Chad Denman DDS, an oral surgeon at Family Tree Dental Group in Austin, Texas. “Increased risk occurs for very young patients, the elderly and those in poor health.”
Certain health factors can make it much more likely that you’d develop a complication from undergoing sedation dentistry — and if you have one of them, your dentist may recommend another method for reducing your anxiety during the treatment. Be sure you alert your dentist to any of the following health conditions you may have, as they may increase the risks of sedation dentistry:
- Heart disease
- Allergies (especially allergies to medications)
- Taking certain medications (over-the-counter, prescription and even herbal supplements)
- Respiratory ailments
- Nervous system problems
- Sleep apnea
- Lifestyle habits, like drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes
But even if you do have one of these health issues, your dentist may be able to provide safe sedation for you. “Most risks can be eliminated by sharing with your dentist a detailed and truthful health history, including problems experienced by immediate family members,” Dr. Denman says. “We have remedies for treating people with virtually any health issue. For example, someone with liver problems would be given a drug that is processed in the kidneys instead of the liver. If a patient has low blood pressure, a medication would be used that would still relax or sedate but wouldn’t allow for a decline in blood pressure.”
Here’s a rundown of the most common risks and complications associated with sedatives and anesthesia:
You may be groggy. Many patients report feeling sleepy and out of sorts, even several hours after the procedure is finished. While the fog will lift with time, you may want to plan ahead if you’re planning to be sedated during an upcoming dental visit. Arrange for a safe ride home (ask a friend to drive you to and from the appointment or call a cab), and don’t plan any challenging or stressful activities for the next 24 hours — including driving.
You may not feel well. Some patients report experiencing nausea, vomiting, dizziness or headaches during or after the treatment. If you do feel unwell when you’re receiving sedation, you should your dentist immediately. He may be able to cut back or stop the sedative, which should help you recover quickly. If you do develop nausea or headaches, you should start to feel better soon after the sedation is stopped.
You may experience more severe side effects. While most people who report side effects from sedation dentistry fall in the groggy or mildly ill camps, for an unlucky few patients more serious risks of sedation dentistry develop. These can include developing an irregular or faster heartbeat and a slower breathing pattern, or experiencing a drop in blood pressure that can impact your overall health. In very rare cases, these can lead to permanent injury, including heart failure, stroke or even death. It’s important to note that cases of severe side effects like these are extremely unusual — but they do happen.
Your dentist will be monitoring your vital signs throughout the procedure, to help minimize the chances that you experience the more serious side effects of sedation.
Discuss your sedation options with your dentist prior to your procedure, so you can work together to determine what level of sedation is necessary — and make sure that you minimize the risks of developing any side effects, so you can get truly anxiety-free dentistry.