IV Sedation Dentistry vs General Anesthesia

Many patients fear going to the dentist, and they avoid dental care due to anxiety, which can have serious oral health and overall health consequences. As more and more dentists realize that patients are avoiding care due to fear and anxiety, new dental options, such as IV sedation dentistry and other types of sedation dentistry have become quite popular.

With sedation dentistry, medications are used to help patients stay relaxed throughout dental procedures. Sedation can also help to prevent pain and to reduce the ability to remember the procedure when it’s completed. However, many patients confuse IV sedation dentistry with general anesthesia, and the two have some big differences. Here’s a closer look at both options, some of the pros and cons they have to offer, and a look at when they are appropriate.

What is IV Sedation?

IV sedation involves administering a sedative through a vein, allowing the medication to work very quickly. Since it’s administered intravenously, the dentist is able to adjust the level of IV sedation as needed for the procedure. This makes it easy to tailor the amount of sedative used to the specific patient, reducing the risk of complications and side effects. While you’ll still be in a semi-awake state and you’ll probably be able to communicate with the dentist, most patients have little or even no memory of the procedure when IV sedation is used. IV sedation is often recommended by dentists for oral surgery procedures to make it easier to relax during stressful, long treatments, such as implant placements, wisdom tooth extractions, and other types of invasive dental treatments.

The Benefits of IV Sedation Dentistry

Some of the benefits of IV sedation dentistry include:

  • Offers a Higher Level of Sedation – When compared to oral sedation or inhalation sedation, IV sedation offers a higher level of sedation.
  • Works Quickly – Since medications are administered intravenously, the medications begin to take effect quickly. Oral sedatives can take an hour or more to act.
  • Quick Recovery Times – Patients generally have a shorter recovery time with IV sedation than they do with oral sedation or general anesthesia.
  • Works for Severe Anxiety – Even patients dealing with severe anxiety can benefit from IV sedation since it achieves a high level of sedation.
  • Amnesia – Amnesia is a common side effect of the medications used for IV sedation, so patients rarely remember the dental procedure.
  • Diminishes the Gag Reflex – For patients with a sensitive gag reflex, the IV sedation can help to suppress that reflex, making dental treatment easier.
  • Patients are Still Conscious – Patients stay conscious during this type of sedation, making it a great alternative to general anesthesia for patients who want to avoid the risk of complications that come with general anesthesia, the high costs, or for those who may not be healthy enough to undergo general anesthesia.

What is General Anesthesia?

General anesthesia generally uses a combination of inhaled gasses and intravenous medications to make patients completely unconscious so they’re unable to respond or feel any pain during a medical procedure. Today it’s not often used for dental procedures, since it has the risk of serious complications. When administered, it depresses the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, which is why it’s not recommended for routine dental work. Some health conditions can increase the risk of complications when general anesthesia is used as well, including:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Drug allergies
  • Seizures
  • History of bad reactions to anesthesia
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

When is General Anesthesia Needed?

Since IV sedation and other methods of sedation dentistry are so effective, general anesthesia isn’t used for a lot of dental procedures anymore. However, it can be useful or indicated in some specific situations.

  • If you have a high tolerance for medications used for IV sedation, you may need general anesthesia for dental procedures when sedation would be otherwise used.
  • In rare cases, for extremely anxious individuals who are unable to cooperate when sedated, general anesthesia may be used for dental procedures.
  • For traumatic dental procedures, such as the removal of wisdom teeth completely impacted or covered in bone, general anesthesia may be the preferred option.
  • General anesthesia may be recommended for other types of complex oral surgery.

For most patients, IV sedation dentistry is a better option when it’s time to undergo dental procedures. However, you should discuss your unique situation and the procedure with your dentist.