Dental Sedation

The Differences Between Sedation and Anesthesia in Dentistry


One concept that consistently confuses patients is the difference between sedation and anesthesia. Honestly, we don’t blame them. These two concepts have similar definitions, and medical professionals occasionally use them interchangeably. Still, it is important to have precise knowledge of a medical topic before undergoing it, so learning about these two treatments is well worth your time.

What is Anesthesia?

The definition of anesthesia is the general usage of medication to reduce sensation. It is frequently used for especially painful or time-consuming procedures, but also has others applications. Medical professionals break this concept up into the 3 following categories.

  • Local – This type of treatment will numb a single, small area. In a dental context, that could mean reducing the feeling in your mouth for a root canal.
  • Regional – This variant refers to the numbing of larger areas, such as an entire arm or leg, and is generally not used in a dentist’s office.
  • General – The last type of anesthesia is the one that “puts you to sleep.” Getting it will make you feel no pain and also lead to a loss of consciousness.

Where Sedation Fits In

Sedation is a result of general anesthesia that dentists and other medical professionals seek for some types of treatments. What these two methods share is that they are both used to lessen pain and lead to some degree of lost consciousness. These results benefit the patient by making the procedure less stressful and painful.

How They Differ

Where these two treatments differ is in severity. When a medical professional wants to “put you to sleep,” meaning you lose all consciousness, they will call that general anesthesia. Sedation, on the other hand, has the following range of strengths.

  • Light – You will likely take an anti-anxiety pill or inhale nitrous oxide for this strength. As a result, you will feel relaxed but lose little or no consciousness. You should remember the appointment entirely.
  • Moderate – Here, you will generally inhale nitrous oxide and lose partial consciousness. You will likely have little or no memory of the treatment.
  • Heavy – Through either nitrous oxide or an IV, you will lose almost all of your consciousness and have no memory of the event.

What to Expect at a Sedation Dental Appointment

Your precise needs will dictate what to expect from your sedation dentist appointment. If you have minor dental anxiety, you might simply take a pill before your treatment and feel its calming effects. For more severe issues or lengthy procedures, your dentist could opt to give you moderate or heavy sedation. No matter what, you will be safe in the hands of a trained medical professional, and the appointment will be over as quickly as possible.

Now that you understand the difference between sedation and anesthesia, you can book a dental appointment with confidence. One thing that eases the mind of many patents is that dental sedation usually involves staying partially conscious. This makes the treatment much less scary to those that are uncomfortable with the idea of general anesthesia.


The Dental Anesthesia Center: Sedation and Sleep Dentistry

950 Francis Pl #305

Clayton, MO


(314) 862-7844

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