How Dental Anesthetic and Sedation Work

woman sleeping peacefully in dental chair

Dental anxiety and fear are common among patients, often preventing them from seeking essential dental care. Fortunately, dental professionals have various techniques at their disposal to make dental procedures more comfortable and less stressful for patients. Dental anesthesia and dental sedation are two such methods that help patients receive necessary dental treatments without excessive discomfort or anxiety. In this blog, we will explore how dental anesthesia and dental sedation work, their benefits, and when they are typically used.

Dental Anesthesia: Numbing the Pain

Dental anesthesia, often referred to as “local anesthesia,” is a technique used to block sensations of pain in a specific area of the mouth during a dental procedure. It allows dentists to perform treatments such as fillings, root canals, extractions, and gum surgeries with minimal or no discomfort for the patient.

Here’s a table that shows common types of dental nerve blocks and the areas they numb:

Dental Nerve BlockAreas Numbed
Inferior Alveolar Nerve Block (IANB)Lower teeth, lower lip, and chin on one side of the mouth
Maxillary Nerve BlockUpper teeth, upper lip, and surrounding tissues on one side of the mouth
Posterior Superior Alveolar Nerve Block (PSANB)Posterior upper teeth on one side of the mouth
Middle Superior Alveolar Nerve Block (MSANB)Middle upper teeth on one side of the mouth
Anterior Superior Alveolar Nerve Block (ASANB)Anterior upper teeth on one side of the mouth
Greater Palatine Nerve BlockHard palate on one side of the mouth
Nasopalatine Nerve BlockAnterior hard palate on one side of the mouth
Buccal Nerve BlockCheek area and soft tissues on one side of the mouth
Mental Nerve BlockChin and lower lip on one side of the mouth
Long Buccal Nerve BlockCheek and gums in the molar region

These nerve blocks are essential tools in dentistry for providing localized anesthesia to ensure patient comfort during various dental procedures. The choice of which nerve block to use depends on the specific area that needs to be numbed for a particular treatment.

How Dental Anesthesia Works

  1. Local Anesthetic Administration: The dentist will first apply a topical anesthetic gel or solution to numb the surface of the area where the injection will be given. This helps reduce the initial discomfort of the needle.
  2. Injection of Anesthetic: Using a small, thin needle, the dentist injects a local anesthetic into the soft tissue near the treatment area. The anesthetic solution contains a numbing agent, usually lidocaine or articaine, which temporarily blocks the nerve signals responsible for transmitting pain.
  3. Numbness and Pain Relief: Within a few minutes, the patient will begin to feel numbness in the treated area. This numbing sensation lasts throughout the dental procedure, ensuring the patient remains comfortable and pain-free.

Benefits of Dental Anesthesia:

  • Effective pain relief
  • Quick onset of action
  • Specific to the treatment area
  • Short recovery time

Dental Sedation: Relaxing the Nerves

Dental sedation is a method used to relax and calm patients who experience significant anxiety or fear when undergoing dental procedures. It is also employed for patients requiring more complex treatments or those with medical conditions that make dental work challenging. Dental sedation can range from mild relaxation to deep sedation, depending on the patient’s needs and the procedure’s complexity.

Here’s a table that outlines common types of dental sedation, their methods of administration, and the levels of sedation they achieve:

Dental Sedation TypeMethod of AdministrationLevel of Sedation
Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas)Inhaled through a maskMild sedation
Oral SedativesTaken orally in pill formMild to moderate sedation
Intravenous (IV) SedationAdministered via an IV lineModerate to deep sedation
General AnesthesiaAdministered through IV or inhalation, often in a hospital settingDeep sedation (unconscious)

Please note that the level of sedation can vary depending on the dosage and individual patient response. The goal is to provide the appropriate level of sedation to ensure patient comfort and relaxation during dental procedures while maintaining their safety. The choice of sedation method is based on factors such as the patient’s anxiety level, the complexity of the dental work, and their medical history. Dentists and dental anesthesiologists carefully evaluate each patient to determine the most suitable sedation option for their needs.

How Dental Sedation Works

  1. Evaluation and Patient Assessment: The dentist or dental anesthesiologist evaluates the patient’s medical history, anxiety level, and the complexity of the dental procedure to determine the appropriate sedation option.
  2. Administration of Sedation: There are different methods of administering dental sedation, including:
  • Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas): Inhaled through a mask, this mild sedative induces relaxation and reduces anxiety. It is often used for less invasive procedures.
  • Oral Sedatives: Patients take prescribed medications (e.g., Valium) before the appointment to induce relaxation and reduce anxiety.
  • Intravenous (IV) Sedation: Administered through an IV line, this form of sedation allows for deeper relaxation and may lead to partial or full unconsciousness, depending on the dosage.
  1. Monitoring and Care: Throughout the procedure, the dental team monitors the patient’s vital signs and comfort levels to ensure their safety.

Benefits of Dental Sedation:

  • Reduced anxiety and fear
  • Enhanced patient comfort
  • Ability to undergo longer or more complex procedures
  • Memory loss of the dental procedure for patients who prefer not to remember the details

When are Dental Anesthesia and Sedation Used?

Here are some situations when dental anesthesia and sedation may be used:

Dental Anesthesia:

  • Routine dental procedures (cleanings, fillings)
  • Tooth extractions (including wisdom teeth removal)
  • Root canals
  • Gum surgeries and periodontal procedures
  • Restorative dentistry (crowns, bridges, implants)
  • Pediatric dentistry for children
  • Patients with dental anxiety or phobia
  • Medically compromised patients
  • Complex dental surgeries (orthognathic surgery, reconstructive procedures)

Dental Sedation:

  • Patients with dental anxiety or phobia
  • Complex or surgical extractions
  • Extensive dental work
  • Pediatric dentistry for anxious children
  • Patients with specific medical conditions
  • Complex dental surgeries requiring deep sedation or general anesthesia


Dental anesthesia and dental sedation are valuable tools in modern dentistry, allowing patients to receive necessary treatments comfortably and without excessive pain or anxiety. These techniques are tailored to meet individual needs, ensuring that even those with dental phobias or complex dental issues can access the care they require. If you have concerns about dental procedures, don’t hesitate to discuss these options with your dentist, as they can help create a more positive and stress-free dental experience. Your oral health is essential, and these techniques can make it easier to maintain.

Dr. Sam Sadati wearing black suite portrait

Dr. Sadati possesses extensive experience in all aspects of advanced restorative dentistry, with an emphasis in cosmetic and implant dentistry.  He has attained Accredited Fellow status in the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry (AACD), the most rigorous, demanding credentialing process in the world. He is the only AACD Accredited Fellow in South Florida..