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Sedation Dentistry Guide: Common Questions, How it’s Done, & More

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A sleeping female patient with a sedation mask over her mouth

If you’re curious about sedation dentistry, you’ve come to the right place. Sedation dentistry is a technique used to help reduce the anxiety some people have about going to the dentist. If you need to undergo a complex dental procedure or you’ve been avoiding the dentist due to fear, sedation dentistry could be the right choice for you. 

What is Sedation Dentistry?

Sedation dentistry is the use of sedatives during dental procedures. Depending on the level of sedation, sedation dentistry causes a relaxed state or a light sleep. If you’re one of the almost 50% of Canadians who have avoided the dentist due to fear, sedation dentistry might be an option for you. It can help patients who have a phobia of the dentist or patients who need longer procedures done.

Who is a good candidate for sedation dentistry?

Anyone who needs dental work can be a good candidate for sedation dentistry. Patients who have a fear of the dentist are often who comes to mind first when you think of sedation dentistry, but sedation dentistry can be beneficial for a variety of patients. Patients who are allergic to local anesthetic, patients with a strong gag reflex, and patients who cannot stay still due to physical or mental disabilities have also been known to benefit from sedation dentistry. 

What procedures are applicable for sedation?

Any procedure can be applicable for sedation, depending on the patient’s needs. It’s often used for complex or invasive procedures that might be uncomfortable for the patient compared to a routine check-up and cleaning. That said, sedation may also be beneficial for simple procedures for certain patients. We’re happy to discuss if sedation is the right option for you and your procedure at your next appointment

How is Sedation Dentistry Performed?

How sedation dentistry is performed will vary depending on your procedure and your needs. We offer 3 different types of sedation: minimal sedation, moderate sedation, and deep sedation. 

Minimal sedation is administered through a breathing mask, whereas moderate and deep sedation can be administered through an IV or orally. If you are receiving oral sedation, we will likely have you take the medication a few hours before your appointment so the medication has time to take effect before the procedure. IV sedation is administered in the office as it usually only requires a few minutes to take effect. Oral sedation can be effective if you have a fear of needles, but IV sedation can be adjusted throughout the procedure, meaning your dentist can keep you at a more consistent level of sedation. 

Regardless of which type of sedation you choose, you will never be fully unconscious. Minimal sedation causes a relaxed state and you will be fully awake. Moderate and deep sedation often cause patients to enter a light sleep, but your dentist can easily wake you if necessary. 

What gases or medications are used during sedation dentistry?

The medications we use will vary depending on the procedure and your medical history. It will also depend on whether we have chosen minimal, moderate, or deep sedation. 

For minimal sedation, we use a gas called nitrous oxide. It is more commonly referred to as laughing gas and is inhaled through a breathing mask with no need for needles or pill swallowing.

For moderate and deep sedation, the drug used will depend on whether you are taking the medication orally or through an IV. If you are taking your sedation orally, Halcion and Ativan are often used. Halcion is in the same drug family as Valium and causes a calming effect. If you’re receiving IV sedation, Midazolam and Propofol are commonly used. Your dentist will discuss your options and make the best choice for you. 

How long will I be sedated for?

As with other aspects of sedation dentistry, how long you’re sedated for will vary on the patient and the procedure. Depending on your needs, you can be sedated anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to a few hours. 

Your dentist will pick the appropriate amount of sedation for you and your procedure. With mild sedation (nitrous oxide) and IV sedation, we can adjust your level of sedation as needed throughout the appointment. 

Depending on your level of sedation, you may feel the effects of the sedative anywhere from 2 to 8 hours after the appointment. Some patients can feel the effects for up to 24 hours, which is why we ask you to have someone pick you up from our office. At the very least, you will likely feel drowsy after your appointment and we don’t want you to risk driving home. 

Is Sedation Dentistry Safe?

Sedation dentistry is a safe, low-risk procedure. We wouldn’t offer sedation dentistry to our patients if it wasn’t. In fact, the risk of mortality for sedation dentistry is one in a million, with the main risk coming from patients driving themselves home after their appointment. 

Potential Risks & Side Effects

To reduce the risk of potential side effects, always follow the pre and post-care instructions we give you. When discussing sedation with your dentist, make sure you’re upfront with your dentist about your medical history. This includes any allergies, medical conditions, or other medications you’re taking. It’s also important for us to know if you’ve had a bad reaction to anesthesia in the past. 

Normal side effects include drowsiness and limited memory of the appointment. It’s also normal for your coordination and reasoning skills to be reduced for up to 24 hours after your procedure, which is why you can’t drive home from your appointment. 

Sedation dentistry is even safe enough to be used for children and elderly patients. For children, we recommend you discuss sedation dentistry with your pediatrician prior to the procedure. For elderly patients, we’ll need to know about any medical conditions so we can mitigate risks associated with sedation. Conditions like cardiac disease, hypertension, diabetes, and respiratory disease can increase the risk of sedation. If you have any of these concerns, speak to your doctor before undergoing a sedation dentistry procedure. 


For many, the benefits of sedation dentistry far outweigh the side effects and potential risks. Sedation dentistry has allowed patients who would otherwise be unable to visit the dentist have a positive and relaxed experience.

In addition to calming patients who fear the dentist, sedation dentistry makes the appointment easier for you and the dentist. Sedation helps with strong gag reflexes and the discomfort of holding your jaw open for a long period of time, allowing your dentist to work more efficiently. More complex procedures can even be completed in less time with fewer appointments through the use of sedation dentistry. 

Our Take

We’ve seen the success of sedation dentistry first-hand, which is why it’s a service we’re proud to offer our patients. As dentists, we know the importance of proper dental care and don’t want anyone to put off a visit to the dentist due to anxiety or fear. If you think sedation dentistry might be helpful for your next appointment, contact us today. We’re always happy to discuss any procedure with our patients to decide what’s the best option for you and your dental needs.

Written by Courtney Berry

Courtney is our resident dental assistant, and her 17 years of experience and extensive knowledge make her a valuable addition to our team. Courtney was born in British Columbia, but was raised right here in Alberta and now lives in south Calgary. Courtney graduated from the Dental Assistant program at the SIAST Wascana Campus, before furthering her studies in cosmetic dentistry and orthodontics at the Las Vegas Institute. She has been working with Dr. Palmer for the last 9 years.

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