If you’re asking that question, then your teeth and your smile might depend on something called sleep dentistry. It’s something you need to know about because it is a solution to the causes of dental phobia and, after all, dental care is not optional in life.
Nonetheless, some people have fears that keep them away. And then their niggles develop into serious problems, because, unlike many other areas of health, most dental issues involve permanent body tissues and do not “get better ” over time. You only get one set of adult teeth and, like the saying goes, it is always too late to wait for dental treatment and never too soon to start.
So the answer to whether you can be put to sleep at the dentist is: yes. But let’s find out more.
First, the name “sleep dentistry” is something of a misnomer. While its most advanced forms put you to “sleep”, the practice also includes far simpler applications of targeted pain prevention. Its alternative name, sedation dentistry, is perhaps more accurate. Advanced Dental Artistry lead dentist Dr Adrian Kat says it broadly breaks down into two themes: anxiety-free dentistry and pain-free dentistry.
“When we are doing dentistry, we are working in a very sensitive area of the body,” Dr Kat says. “Patient anxiety is a constant and has been across my whole career. Almost everyone I have seen has had some degree of apprehension about their visit.”
Dr Kat says the practice of sleep dentistry is now changing all that. And it all begins with simply talking to a patient about what procedure is being considered and what their specific concerns are. From this discussion, Dr Kat and his patients work out how to tailor a sleep dentistry approach if it is found necessary.
So what are these approaches?
The first level of sleep dentistry is very mild: an inhaler delivering the common pain-reliever penthrox. This non-needle pain-prevention method means that, while you are awake throughout the entire dental procedure, it makes you feel relaxed and really takes the edge off.
Penthrox, which you may know as the “green whistle” from ambulance kits, is a non-opioid that works quickly and lasts up to 3 hours.
The next step of sleep dentistry is taking anxiolysis tablets. These medications remove the anxiety you may have about your upcoming procedure and also often have pain-prevention effects. There are many kinds of anxiolysis medication, collectively they are also referred to by the outdated term “minor tranquilisers”. All of them affect the brain in a targeted way to neutralise feelings of anxiety at the source.
The first part of sleep dentistry that involves “sleep” as it is usually understood is twilight anaesthesia. Conducted in leading dental practices, this technique puts the patient into a state of twilight consciousness.
The patient is aware enough to understand basic instructions from the dental team, but they will feel no pain and will not remember anything of their procedure. The subdued state of the patient also allows the dentist to work more quickly.
The final level of sleep dentistry might be what you immediately thought of when you heard the term. Yes, we are talking a full general anaesthetic. As the patient must be on a ventilator, this must take place in a hospital.
As the kind of anaesthetic used for any major surgery, it requires much more care to induce and has a longer recovery time. However, it also means the patient feels and remembers absolutely nothing of the procedure.
While sleep dentistry is safe for healthy adults, children and senior citizens, it is still a medical procedure. There are always risk management practices to consider.
Some of the cases where sleep dentistry might not be an ideal solution are if the patient has a temporary illness (like the flu), certain kinds of allergies, suffers asthma or is medically diagnosed as obese (this increases the likelihood of airway obstruction).
Yes, it is possible, but the situation isn’t so straightforward.
“When it comes to sleep dentistry, I think the most important thing is to listen to the patient and be sensitive to their level of anxiety. From this we can then tailor the procedure to ensure the patient has totally a anxiety-free and/or pain-free dental treatment,” Dr Kat says.
Common misconceptions people have when they hear “sleep dentistry” are of getting general anaesthetic at your local clinic for a clean and scale. Other people might imagine it is being hooked up to a tank of nitrous oxide (aka laughing gas) as soon as you’re asked to say ahhhh. Neither is accurate.
Sleep dentistry is, rather, an advanced process and, like much else in dentistry, has advanced greatly over the past 20 years. Think of it as a precisely controlled and increasingly “medical” set of techniques for managing the overall dentistry experience.
Sleep dentistry is suitable for many of the more advanced dental procedures, including:
“If a patient presents with these kinds of conditions, we sit down and talk them through their options,” Dr Kat says. “They’re surprised to learn about what sleep dentistry can do for them.”
And perhaps that is you too. Many people are not aware of how much dentistry has advanced since they were children.
Have you been putting up with a dental condition too long? Do you think your smile just isn’t doing justice to your personality? Does dental anxiety or your worry about pain seem too towering to overcome? Well, sleep dentistry might be your solution.
Come in to talk to us for a sensitive and no-obligation discussion of your case. You might be pleasantly surprised as how simple a solution might be.
After all, they’re the only teeth you have – you deserve them to be the best they can be.
If you have any further questions or queries, don't hesitate to contact us.