In a broad sense, anesthesia is defined as insensitivity to pain, reduced level of consciousness or combination of both, and is brought on by the administration of gases or the injection of drugs before surgical procedures. Anesthesia can roughly be broken down into local anesthesia and anesthesia ( type of sedation or general anesthesia). In today’s dental world, sedation and anesthesia are becoming a popular way to help alleviate fear and pain of visiting the dentist.
Local anesthesia is produced when a drug is applied on the surface of the skin or injected by way of “a shot” and works locally to where the drug is placed. It is typically what is used in dental offices today and is often described as “getting numb”. With local anesthesia a patient’s level of consciousness is completely unaffected.
Anesthesia can be widely described as an altered state of consciousness within the brain making a patient less nervous or fearful, and therefore more comfortable for a dental procedure. This type of anesthesia works at the level of the brain. Depending on what the patient’s needs are, four different states, levels or depths of anesthesia can be described. Minimal sedation is a level of slight, almost unnoticed decrease of fear or anxiety whereas moderate sedation is where the patient may sleep but keeps their ability to move and respond appropriately to their environment. Deep sedation and general anesthesia are defined differently, but have close similarities and are therefore treated as the same type of anesthesia. With both levels a patient is not able to respond to their environment or is completely unable to move.
Please see the American Dental Association’s Guidelines for the Use of Sedation and General Anesthesia by Dentists for a complete definition and description of the levels of anesthesia.
Today, a Dentist Anesthesiologist has completed a three-year Dental Anesthesiology residency dedicated to the full time study of anesthesiology. During their residency, dentist anesthesiologists have complete medical-related coursework and clinical experiences, as well as rotations in hospital and surgery center operating room environments. Much of their training has an emphasis in the pediatric and special needs patient populations. Because dentist anesthesiologists are first trained to practice dentistry, they have a sound grasp of the dental procedures being performed and a better understanding of what a dentist’s needs are in an anesthesiologist. For more information please visit the American Society of Dentist Anesthesiologists or the American Dental Association’s CODA (Commission on Dental Accreditation) websites.