Do you love going to the dentist? If so, you might be in a class of your own. 

Nearly half of Americans have anxiety related to dental visits. For many anxious people, this can cause them to avoid the dentist altogether. 

Putting off dental care can result in serious problems. We know regular dental visits are a good thing. 

So why do we dread going to the dentist so much? 

For most people, the anxiety is centered around uncertainty and pain. What is the dentist going to do? How bad will it hurt? 

Let’s learn more about dental anesthesia! Most dental and oral surgery practices offer three types of anesthesia.

You have choices so let’s learn more about the anesthesia options available to you. 

Local Anesthesia

Local anesthesia is one of the types of anesthesia we’re most familiar with. Your dentist will inject novocaine or another numbing agent into your gums. They only numb the part of of your mouth they’ll work on.

Local anesthesia is most commonly used when you get a filling or other minor dental work. 

Local anesthetic is almost always used in conjunction with other dental anesthesia options. The numbing agent is long-lasting so it helps provide pain relief several hours later. 

Local anesthesia also constricts the blood vessels in the area. This helps keep bleeding to a minimum. 

For many patients, this is the scariest part of all! The needle is long and the injections are painful. Some people think the anesthetic is more painful than the work that comes after. 

But did you know your dentist can also use topical anesthetic? They’ll place a topical gel or cream on your gums prior to the anesthetic injection. 

This anesthetic numbs your gums. When the dentist is ready to give you the injection the pain is greatly lessened. 

Nitrous Oxide 

Nitrous oxide is more commonly known as laughing gas. Nitrous oxide has been used in dental and medical practices since the mid-1800s. We know a lot about how it works and its safety. 

In fact, many dentists often use nitrous oxide for all dental procedures that also require a local anesthetic. 

That means if you go in for a filling you’ll be able to choose if you want the added comfort of laughing gas. 

Nitrous oxide is mixed with oxygen and you breathe it during your procedure. You’ll feel a lot more relaxed but you usually won’t fall asleep. 

Most patients do very well with nitrous oxide. This combined with a local anesthetic means you’ll feel pressure but not pain. And the laughing gas helps a lot with anxiety. 

No wonder it’s been used for over 150 years!

Please note that your dentist might ask you not to eat for a few hours before you have nitrous oxide. They may also request that someone else drives you home. 

General Anesthesia or IV Sedation? 

Some people might be a bit confused about these anesthesia options. Are they the same? If not, what makes them different? 

General anesthesia is almost always used in a hospital or surgical center setting. An anesthesiologist administers a combination of medications that renders you unconscious. 

They will also regulate your breathing while you’re under anesthesia. 

Dentists and oral surgeons might use general anesthesia in specific cases. Talk with your dentist about this option. 

IV sedation is widely used among dentists. And many patients love this choice, especially for wisdom teeth removal or dental implants. So what happens during IV sedation? 

First, you’ll have an IV placed in a vein in your arm or hand. Then they’ll inject the medication into your IV. You won’t fall asleep but you’ll have little to no memory of the time passed while you’re sedated. 

You’ll be able to talk, respond to questions or instructions, and breathe on your own. You just won’t remember it.

Many of the same rules apply to general anesthesia and IV sedation. You should not eat for at least six hours before the procedure. Someone else will need to drive you to and from your appointment. 

You should not operate machinery, sign legal documents or drive for 24 hours after your visit. This allows all the effects of the sedation to wear off. 

Be sure to call your dental team if you have any questions or concerns. 

Which Dental Anesthesia Option Is Right for Me?

Now we know more about dental anesthesia. So which choice is right for you?

Talk with your dentist or oral surgeon. The procedure you’ll be having often dictates the type of anesthesia used. Your level of comfort is also considered when choosing anesthesia. 

For fillings, you’ll receive a local anesthetic and nitrous oxide may also be an option. For oral surgery, you’ll likely have IV sedation. But your dental team will always use anesthesia that is right for your procedure.  

Talk With Your Dentist About Anesthesia 

Your dentist and oral surgeon don’t want you to be afraid or worried about pain. They understand the anxiety associated with dental work and want to help you avoid it. Have a conversation with them about your concerns. 

Dental anesthesia makes a huge difference. Your dental and oral surgery team will do all they can to lessen your pain and anxiety. Knowing this helps you feel better about going to the dentist in the first place. 

Learn more about our dental services so we can help you feel more relaxed and comfortable about your next dental visit.