What is sedation dentistry? How to find a sedation dentist near you?

Peter Dégallier

Written by Peter Dégallier RDH, Benjamin Wang DDS, Nichole McKenna DDS

A sedation dentist is one that has been trained in administering calming medication prior to a procedure. Many dentists offer mild to moderate forms as gas or pills. Deeper forms might require intervention from an anesthesiologist.

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Sedation dentist vs. dental specialists

When you take a look at the specialities recognized by the ADA, sedation is not one of them. Nonetheless, since the demand for sedation is large and there are not many dentists who can perform it, it is seen as an important technical expertise in dentistry.

Nichole McKenna

Nichole McKenna, DDS

Most dentists offer minimal sedation with the use of anxiolytic medications. Many offer nitrous. Few offer deeper sedation.

Sedation dentists are usually family dentists and oral surgeons. They use different forms of sedation to ease procedures such as dental implant surgery or root canal treatment. This service can be quite costly.

To perform deep sedation or general anesthesia, dentists have to complete the Commission on Dental Accreditation program. An anesthesiologist has to be present while the patient is put under. Each state has their own regulation on who can perform sedative techniques.

How to define sedation dentistry?

Sedation is the use of medicines to help patients relax during treatment. It can be administered via vein, inhalation, or orally. The goal is to remove anxiety. Safe practice requires special monitoring equipment to make sure everything is going as planned.

All sedation in dentistry is coupled with a local anesthetic, usually an injection. This is the part that blocks nerve endings to manage pain.


Laughing gas sedation

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A minimal form of sedation leaves the patient completely awake but relaxed. It is usually administered via inhalation.

When it is used

Nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas” is common. Laughing gas often accommodates tooth extraction. It is great with procedures that, apart from causing pain and discomfort, are also a source of anxiety.

That is why it is used with minor procedures on toddlers. Filling cavities, for example, becomes a lot less stressful this way.

How it works

Laughing gas makes you feel very calm and relaxed, almost giddy. You might find yourself giggling after the procedure.

You will breathe it in through a small mask that fits over your nose. A tube will feed the gas in. Sometimes the tube is inserted directly into the nose. This is extremely safe, even for two- or three-year-olds and pregnant women.

If you are uncomfortable with inhalation, you can also receive a pill to take about an hour before the procedure. It is usually a form of Valium and it will make you drowsy.

Duration and intensity

The effects of laughing gas are very short-lived. You should start to feel normal within minutes of cutting the supply.

You might not remember the procedure properly. You will, however, be able to follow simple instructions. Laughing gas is often used alongside anesthesia, so you can expect to get an injection as well.


Medication on tongue

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Also referred to as procedural sedation, this method is quite a common one at the dental office as well.

When it is used

It is habitually used when treating adolescents, but it can likewise be used with adults. The procedures in question are uncomplicated surgical ones, usually lasting less than an hour. A good example is wisdom tooth extraction.

How it works

You will be asked to take a drug orally about thirty minutes to an hour before your procedure. The type of medication is usually a benzodiazepine. With some medications, you may be asked to take it the night before and/or morning of your appointment.

This chemical can be used to induce sleep and relaxation. It can cause temporary memory loss and helps to reduce anxiety. Benzodiazepine is also a muscle relaxant, so you might find yourself moving slower than normal as well.

Duration and intensity

Procedural sedation helps to relax you, not put you to sleep. You will remain awake, but will not remember what was happening exactly. The dentist or dental assistant might give you simple instructions which you will be able to follow.

You will be in this “twilight” state for about an hour. You might feel drowsy and will need someone to take you home. Some patients find they can’t concentrate the next day, so you might have to take a day off work.

You should be able to breathe by yourself, but respiratory and resuscitative equipment will be available at the office to ensure your safety.


Deep dental sedation

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Deep sedation is often confused with general anesthesia. This is because the effects are similar. Both are commonly used during oral surgery and a good option for those who are nervous or highly sensitive to pain.

The deepest form of sedation puts the patient completely under for some time before, during, and a while after the procedure. The patient does not wake up until the drugs wear off or some other substance is administered.

When it is used

Intravenous mediation is usually used with oral surgery. Pediatric patients who require a lot of dental work may also benefit from this kind. It can sometimes be used for root canal treatment or fillings if you are very sensitive to pain or very nervous. More often than not, however, for these you will have one of the less invasive kinds.

Most general dentists in the U.S. are not licensed for IV sedation. It is usually performed by specialists like oral surgeons or endodontists.

How it works

It is sometimes called conscious sedation and it is exactly that. You will not be fully asleep, but you won’t remember the procedure either.

Your hand will be strapped down and a needle will be inserted into your vein. The sedative will be delivered slowly throughout the procedure. The dose is easy to control.

Duration and intensity

It’s a good idea to abstain from eating and drinking for about eight hours before your procedure. Your dentist will give you more detailed instructions during your preliminary exam.

Throughout the procedure, you will not be entirely “present” but you will be aware if someone, for example, touches your arm.

The drug will still be in effect for a few hours. You shouldn’t drive in this state, so it’s a good idea to organize somebody to assist you.


Who can benefit from sedation dentistry?

Most people are candidates for sedation dentistry. General anesthesia may be unsuitable for some. Those who benefit from this most are patients with high pain sensitivity, dental anxiety, gag reflex, and those who need a lot of work done on their mouth.

What kind of dental procedures can be done under sedation?

Sedation is used for any procedure from a simple cleaning to a complicated root canal treatment. It all depends on the patient's attitude, sensitivity to pain, and anxiety levels.

Do all dentists offer sedation?

Most dentists offer minimal or moderate sedation in their offices. More and more are completing the Commission on Dental Accreditation (CODA) program to become certified for deeper types.

How much does sedation dentistry cost?

Sedation is an expensive service. It is usually charged per hour or even in 15-minute increments. The charge for such a short period can even go up to $250. The rule of thumb is that the deeper the type, the more expensive it might be.

Our dentist near me service can help you optimize costs. We’ll book you a visit with a specialist who accepts your insurance and preferred payment method.

Is sedation dentistry safe?

There’s always some degree of risk. It is considered safe if you don’t have any contraindications, go with an experienced doctor, and the office is well-equipped. What’s more, you must follow pre-and post-op instructions very carefully.

Your dentist will give you detailed instructions as to what you should do. Generally, patients are asked not to eat for a period of time before the procedure to avoid nausea. You cannot smoke or drink alcohol either. Wear loose clothing and leave makeup and jewelery at home. Cancel if you feel under the weather.

It’s a good idea to arrange someone to pick you up after your procedure. Get plenty of rest and don’t strain yourself with physical exercise.


  1. Recognized Dental Specialties - ADA
  2. Commission of Dental Accreditation - ADA
  3. American Society of Anesthesiologists - ASAHG
  4. Nitrous oxide - PubChem
  5. Valium - Drugs.com
  6. IV Sedation Dentistry - Colgate