Sedation Dentistry Provides Popular Alternative for Anxious Patients

In dentistry terms, it was a marathon. In one nine-hour session, Dr. Bruce Cooper prepped 20 teeth for crowns on the same patient. The key to success — the patient was comfortably sedated throughout the entire appointment.

“When I called her the next day to see how she was doing, she had very little recollection of the procedure,” says Cooper, co-owner of Cooper Moss Advanced Dentistry. “There’s an aspect of the sedative called ‘an amnesiac property.’ The patient was awake, but all of the details of the appointment were lost.”

That visit was an example of sedation dentistry in action, a technique used for patients with considerable anxiety, or those needing so much work done that they would be uncomfortable during the long period of time in the chair.

Because patients are still awake, they can respond to simple requests from the dentist and answer questions. However, they will not experience pain and since they will not remember most of the procedure, there will be no painful memories attached to it. “For an anxious patient, that’s a wonderful thing,” says Dr. Cooper.

In the United States, an estimated 9 to 15 percent of people suffer from dental phobia, a degree of anxiety so severe that it prevents them from scheduling visits at all. Inevitably, small problems grow larger over the years and often by the time an anxious patient works up their courage to visit a dentist, issues have become more serious. “Some people have so much fear that they put off dentistry until they have a lot of problems,” says Cooper. “When they find out they have an option like this, it makes a big difference.”

In other cases, patients may need extensive work done that would normally be broken up into three or four visits. “If we have to work on all four quadrants of someone’s mouth, usually that’s going to mean multiple appointments,” says Cooper. “With sedation, they can make it through that extended treatment in one convenient appointment. The patient with 20 crowns was an extreme example, with treatment beginning at 7:00 a.m. and ending in the late afternoon.

One effect of the oral sedation is the sense that very little time has passed. “Patients are almost in shock that the time went by so quickly,” says Cooper. Once the procedure is over, patients need someone else to drive them home and keep an eye on them until the sedation wears off. Currently, Cooper Moss has multiple such cases each month. Both dentists and their assistants need an extra certification to practice sedation dentistry.

For the patients who need it, oral conscious sedation is a game changer, says Cooper. “We’ve had so many people tell us, ‘I could never have gotten through that without it.’ They love it.”