Sleep Dentistry - Options for Nervous Patients
Sleep Dentistry

Sleep Dentistry - Options for Nervous Patients

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Do you feel nervous about visiting the dentist? You're not alone, it’s a common issue that many Australians experience. However, it doesn't mean you have to avoid getting the dental care you need.

3 minute read

Having dental fear means something different for everyone. It could mean a bit of anxiety around ongoing cleaning appointments, or it could mean that person avoids stepping foot in the door of a dental practice entirely.

Regular check-ups are important for catching problems like tooth decay and gum disease early and helping you to maintain good oral health. However, avoiding the dentist can make it more likely that a small dental problem develops into a larger one that requires complex and costly treatment down the track.

If you have dental anxiety, or think you could benefit from extra pain relief, your dentist can discuss sleep dentistry and various coping strategies to help you feel calm and relaxed.

It’s worth noting, that in many cases the coping strategies used by the dentist are enough to help patients feel calm and relaxed through their treatment, without sedation.

Watch Dr Darren's 7 Tips to Overcome Dental Fear and the coping strategies he recommends to patients, below:

Coping strategies can include a number of techniques that incorporate communication, distraction and relaxation exercises.

For more information on these coping strategies, read our 3-minute blog Help, I Hate the Dentist: How to Beat Dental Fear

If coping strategies have not been successful in the past, dental sedation may be the best option for your needs.


What is sleep dentistry?

Sleep dentistry or sedation dentistry is the use of sedatives to help anxious patients or people with other issues to relax during their dental treatment.

Despite the name, sleep dentistry doesn't always involve putting patients to sleep. With most sedation methods, you will remain conscious and awake, but in a more relaxed state.

Your dentist will explain the different sedation options involved and any side effects you need to be aware of so you can decide what's best for you.


Why is sedation used?

Dental sedation may be requested for different reasons. The most common are to help reduce anxiety, to help patients who may have had bad dental experiences in the past, generalised anxiety and if extra pain relief is required for complex treatment.


Reducing anxiety

According to research by Professor Jason Armfield at the University of Adelaide, 1 in 7 Australian adults have high dental fear. This can cause some people to delay their appointments or miss them altogether.Other people may have anxiety related to certain aspects of dental treatments, such as a fear of needles, blood, close contact or loss of control.


Bad dental experiences

If someone has had a negative experience at a dental practice in the past, this can make them reluctant to see a dentist for regular check-ups or when they notice signs of a problem.

This can increase their risk of dental problems developing and lead to a vicious cycle where going to the dentist is associated with pain and discomfort.

Dental sedation can be one method of helping people to overcome bad experiences and feel more comfortable visiting the dentist.


Generalised anxiety

If generalised anxiety is stopping you from walking through the door of the dental practice, you may benefit from seeking help from a mental health professional first.

A mental health professional may be able to give you the tools needed to take those first steps towards getting dental care.


Reducing pain and sensitivity

Many dental treatments are carried out under local anaesthesia administered using a needle or gel. This numbs the mouth and blocks pain, but it may not be effective for some people.

If you have particularly sensitive teeth or gums or a low tolerance for pain, you may benefit from other types of sedation, such as happy gas (inhalation sedation) or IV sedation in addition to local anaesthetic.

Sleep dentistry may also be helpful if you have a small mouth or you find it uncomfortable to keep your mouth open or sit still in the dentist's chair for long periods.


Types of dental sedation

There are several types of dental sedation that have different effects. Your dentist will recommend the most suitable options based on your individual needs:

  • Oral sedation
  • Inhalation sedation
  • Intravenous (IV) sedation
  • General anaesthetic


Oral sedation

Oral sedatives can be effective for reducing mild anxiety. They come in tablet form and should be swallowed around 1 hour before your treatment begins.

Under oral sedation, you will be conscious and able to follow your dentist's instructions, but you may feel drowsy and you may not retain memories of the procedure.

You should avoid driving for 24 hours after taking oral sedation.


Inhalation sedation

Also known as laughing gas or happy gas, inhalation sedation can be another option for reducing mild anxiety and pain relief.

It is breathed in through a face mask and only takes a few minutes to work. You will still be conscious, but in a dream-like state.

The effects of inhalation sedation wear off in minutes, with no lasting side effects. You may feel a tingling sensation while the sedative is being administered.

At EVP Dental, Dr Anmol Saxena can provide dental care under inhalation sedation.


Intravenous (IV) sedation

Also called twilight sedation, IV sedation is a moderate type of sedative that is administered through injection by a qualified anaesthetist. IV sedation can be administered in the dentist’s chair or in day surgery.

You will normally be conscious and responsive while under IV sedation, but some people fall asleep. You will retain little to no memory of the experience and may feel as if you've taken a short nap. You shouldn’t drive for 24 hours following IV sedation.


General anaesthesia

General anaesthetic is heavy sedation that may only be provided by a qualified anaesthetist in day surgery. You will be unconscious during the procedure and woken up afterwards.

This type of sedation may be recommended for high anxiety or if you're having a more complex procedure. You’ll need to be healthy and free of certain medical conditions to be eligible for general anaesthesia.

Side effects of general anaesthesia can include temporary confusion, dizziness or nausea. You shouldn’t drive or operate machinery for 48 hours.


Am I suitable for sedation?

If you're considering sedation or sleep dentistry, your dentist will check your medical history and ask about any medication you're currently taking to determine whether you’re eligible.

You may not be suitable if you have a respiratory condition such as asthma or obstructive sleep apnoea. Obesity may also increase your risk of complications from sedatives.

Your dentist will make sure you understand the possible risks and alternatives before you consent to sleep dentistry.


What treatments can sleep dentistry be used for?

Dental sedation may be requested for any dental procedure, as it is based on the individual's needs and concerns.

Sedation is most commonly recommended for procedures involving oral surgery, such as dental implants or complex wisdom teeth removal.

However, it may also be requested for routine procedures such as dental cleans, root canal therapy, crowns or fillings.


Find out more about sleep dentistry in East Victoria Park

Our caring and experienced dentists at EVP Dental offer a range of sedation options to help you get the care you need, free from pain or anxiety.

To find out more, call us today on 08 9470 3944 or book online to make an appointment with our Perth dentists.



  1. Appukuttan DP. Strategies to manage patients with dental anxiety and dental phobia: literature review. Clin Cosmet Investig Dent. 2016;8:35-50. Published 2016 Mar 10. doi:10.2147/CCIDE.S63626
  2. Armfield JM. The extent and nature of dental fear and phobia in Australia. Australian Dental Journal 2010;55:368-377.