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Dental Anesthesia

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It is not uncommon for patients to dread a trip to the dentist's office because they associate dental treatment with discomfort.  To help patients relax and to ease discomfort or pain, dentists now offer a wide range of anesthesia options. 

It is not uncommon for patients to dread a trip to the dentist's office because they associate dental treatment with discomfort.  According to the  American Dental Association (ADA), dentists have been using pain management techniques for more than 160 years1.  To help patients relax and to ease discomfort or pain, dentists now offer a wide range of anesthesia options.  Learn about the dental anesthesia options available to patients today, and which option may be right for you.

The most common form of dental anesthesia is local anesthesia.  To prevent surface level pain, a dentist may apply a topical anesthetic.  This is commonly used to soothe mouth sores or to prepare the patient for the injection of a local anesthetic, such as Novocain┬«.  Injectable anesthetics are designed to prevent pain in a specific area of the mouth by blocking nerves and numbing mouth tissues.  The effect of these anesthetics is temporary.  Local Injectable anesthesia is often used for patients who require fillings or crowns, or who need treatment for gum disease.

Nitrous oxide, often referred to as laughing gas, is an inhalable dental anesthetic that is used commonly with patients who experience moderate dental anxiety, often in combination with local anesthetics.

For patients who experience more severe dental anxiety or those who wish to undergo a number of treatments in one visit, sedation dentistry is often a good option.  With sedation dentistry, the patient either swallows a pill or is given intravenous sedatives that produce a state of "conscious sedation" where the patient is awake and responsive, but thoroughly relaxed.

In some cases, general anesthesia is appropriate for dental patients.  General anesthesia renders the patient unconscious.  General anesthesia may be applied when the patient is profoundly anxious, a very young child, physically or mentally challenged, unable to stay still for a period of time, or when the patient requires extensive dental treatment such as oral surgery.

Following dental treatment, some patients may experience discomfort.  In these cases, the most commonly used form of pain relief is over-the-counter non-narcotic analgesics, such as acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen.  In cases where patients have undergone significant treatment and may be experiencing a higher level of discomfort, narcotic analgesics such as codeine may be prescribed.

These days, in addition to offering traditional anesthesia and sedation techniques, many dentists employ alternative means of relaxation for their patients, such as supplying the patient with headphones or a movie to watch, a warm blanket, aromatherapy, and even massage performed on the hands or feet while the patient is in treatment.  If you suffer from dental anxiety or are preparing for an uncomfortable dental procedure, you should discuss your trepidations with your dentist.  He or she can recommend the appropriate anesthesia, and may also recommend some relaxation techniques to help you deal with dental anxiety and phobia.

1http://www.ada.org/2469.aspx#top

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