At the most basic level a local anesthetic is used to prevent pain. Applied directly to the treatment site, used on its own it will not alter consciousness. Sedation in conjunction with anesthetic medications is used to relieve pain or to relax and calm a patient in preparation for a dental procedure.

This section provides information on the use of sedation and general anesthesia in dentistry. You can also review a complete list of frequently asked questions related to sedation and general anesthesia.

What is Sedation and General Anesthesia?

Various levels of sedation may be used for dental procedures. The level of sedation ranges from mild sedation to general anesthesia (which affects the whole body to varying degrees).

  • Minimal sedation: Generally, you feel more relaxed but are able to walk, talk and breathe normally (though this is dose dependent)-you are not asleep.
  • Moderate sedation: You can still talk, hear and respond but feel drowsy and sleepy, though you are not asleep. You should be able to breathe on your own and you will still require local anesthetic. Depending on the medications used, you may or may not remember your procedure.
  • Deep sedation: You are asleep and can still breathe on your own but can't remember anything about the procedure afterwards. Even with deep sedation, local anesthetic needs to be administered because your pain reflexes, though significantly dulled, are still intact.
  • General anesthesia: The deepest level; you are unconscious and cannot feel pain; your reflexes are absent and you need assistance in breathing. You will feel as if you are asleep.

Do I require sedation or general anesthesia for my dental procedure/treatment?

Whether or not sedation is used​ for your specific procedure, as well as the type of sedation recommended, will depend on a few factors: the nature of your treatment; your level of anxiety; and your overall health and medical history. Discuss the sedation options with your dentist to make an informed decision for your health.

Also, learn more about the use of sedation and general anesthesia in treating children​.