Talking to Your Dentist About Anesthesia

Dentists use a variety of anesthesia products to help their patients feel as comfortable and relaxed as possible during dental procedures. Due to the incredible advances in dental technology, dentists are now able to provide medication for patients to lessen or completely eliminate pain and anxiety during treatment. Depending on the type of procedure you need, your dentist may be able to offer you more than one option for anesthesia.

What are the Different Types of Anesthesia?

The most common types of anesthesia used by dentists are:

  • Analgesics
  • Local anesthesia
  • Sedation and general anesthesia


Analgesics (available in narcotic and non-narcotic forms) are the most commonly prescribed medications for pain during and following dental procedures. Non-narcotic analgesics include ibuprofen, acetaminophen and aspirin. The narcotic category can include drugs made with codeine, hydrocodone, or oxycodone; and are most frequently prescribed for severe pain.

Local Anesthesia

Local anesthetics can be divided into two categories: those that are applied topically and those that are injected directly into the tissue. In a topical form, the anesthetic numbs the tissue to which it is applied, preventing pain on the surface. Often, a topical anesthetic may be applied before an injected anesthetic is used to lessen the pinch of the needle. The injected anesthetic typically lasts much longer than the topical one and works by blocking the nerves that sense pain and allow pain messages to be sent to the brain. This type of anesthesia is frequently used during the filling of cavities, root canals, treatment of periodontal disease, or tooth extraction (tooth pull).

Sedation and General Anesthesia

These types of anesthesia are most commonly administered when a patient is especially anxious prior to the procedure. Sedatives can help a patient relax considerably, allowing the dentist to work with ease and efficiency. Nitrous oxide and other light sedation techniques simply help to place the patient into a deeply relaxed state, whereas more complex sedation methods can put a person completely “under,” or to sleep. This ability to induce temporary unconsciousness is especially useful in cases in which a child, for example, is so anxious that the dentist is unable to perform the procedure.

How to Talk to Your Dentist

One of your dentist’s primary concerns is your comfort and contentment while he or she treats your teeth and gums. If you routinely experience anxiety concerning dental procedures or anesthesia, talk to your dentist before you get started. State your concerns clearly and plainly, as this will help you both with developing a rapport and a course of treatment that works best for you.

After you’ve talked about anesthesia, work out a system of communication in which you can use your hands while you are unable to talk. Knowing that you will be able to tell your dentist when you are in discomfort or need a break can greatly reduce general anxiety during treatment.

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