General Anaesthesia for Dental Phobia


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Generally speaking most people suffering from a dental phobia will be happy with more commonplace forms of sedation like IV, oral, or inhalation sedation. For some however, the prospect of being awake at all, even in a sedated and pain free state, during a dental procedure is horrifying, and if you find yourself in such a position, then general anaesthesia might be the option for you.

What is general anaesthesia?

General anaesthesia refers to a pharmacologically induced state of unconsciousness which is often used in surgery to conduct procedures which would otherwise be impossible to perform. General anaesthetics have been used for years, but are still used only when necessary as there are some inherent risks.

General anaesthesia and dentistry

The use of general anaesthesia, also known as deep sedation, is avoided whenever possible as it bears with it some health risks (discussed below). However it is an option if you are in need of urgent dental work and don’t have the time to properly deal with your phobia, and are also not suitable, for whatever reason, for milder forms of sedation that keep you conscious.

If general anaesthesia is absolutely necessary, then a battery of pre-operative tests will need to be conducted, including X-rays and lab tests, to determine your well being. A specialist anaesthesia team will need to be procured and the procedure conducted in a fully equipped operating theatre which many dental clinics will not have.

Why is general anaesthesia avoided when possible?

There are greater risks involved in general anaesthesia, largely revolving around the effect a general anaesthetic has on important bodily functions. The chemicals used tax the important cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) and respiratory (lungs and breathing) systems, and hence this form of anaesthesia is out of the question for people who have issues with either of these systems unless absolutely necessary. Because of these negative effects on your vital organs, dentists will choose not to use general anaesthesia for elective procedures and for routine work, both of which do not pose a great enough risk to the patient to warrant using a general anaesthetic. This is also because routine procedures like fillings involve the production of debris materials that can obstruct your breathing while unconscious, meaning that you would need to be fitted with an uncomfortable breathing tube.

The presence of a breathing tube presents technical difficulties which can impede the quality of the dental work you are receiving. It brings your tongue into a position which is more obstructive, and as it is paralysed by the effects of the drug, meaning it won’t move around as necessary. You will be required to abide by ‘nil by mouth’ (no food or drink) for 6 hours before treatment.

Why use general anaesthesia then?

Again general anaesthesia is only really an option when a procedure is absolutely necessary and if you find yourself with a phobia or anxiety so severe that other forms of sedation aren’t an option. Some of you may have an unusually high tolerance for other forms of sedation which also leaves you with general anaesthesia as an option.

Some kinds of dental treatments can be very painful and take quite some time to perform.

How is general anaesthesia applied?

The typical mode of administration is an injection, typically in the larger vessels of your wrist or arm. A face mask is sometimes used after the initial injection. To reduce any pain you might experience after the procedure, a local anaesthetic is administered to the specific area upon which the procedure is conducted to keep it numb after you wake, saving you much unnecessary discomfort.


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