Dental pain 101: How your dentist relieves pain and anxiety

Does the thought of visiting your dentist make you a little uneasy? If so, you’re not alone. Dental anxiety or fear affects nearly half of the population in the U.S. These feelings may be worse if you’re anticipating a potentially painful procedure. Fortunately, dentists have a variety of ways to help ease pain and anxiety for both adults and children. 

The most common ways dentists reduce pain and anxiety


• Local anesthesia reduces or eliminates pain in the area where it’s applied. It can be applied as an injection or topical applied directly to the skin. The anesthetic numbs the area where the dentist needs to do a procedure, such as extracting a tooth or filling a cavity. Anesthesia usually takes effect within a few minutes and lasts for an hour or two. If your anxiety stems from a fear of pain, this is one of the easiest ways that dentists can manage the issue.

• Sedation can be used when you need something more than local anesthesia to help you relax and control pain during a complex procedure, such as an oral surgery, or if you’re especially anxious. Sedatives can be injected or inhaled and will put you in a light sleep. 

Levels of sedation

Pain and anxiety relief are never one-size-fits-all, but your dentist will determine what’s best for you. These are three of the most common sedatives in dentistry.


Nitrous oxide

Sometimes known as “laughing gas,” nitrous oxide is a mild sedative used to ease both pain and anxiety. It can be safely used with children and those who might have difficulty sitting through a dental procedure due to fear, a gag reflex or special needs. The gas is inhaled with a mask and can help you feel calmer and more comfortable within minutes.


Intravenous (IV) sedation

This type of fast-acting sedative is injected into your bloodstream. The level of sedation can range from minimal to deep. You may feel drowsy or even fall asleep during the procedure. IV sedation is often used for lengthier procedures, such as wisdom teeth removal or dental implant surgery.


General anesthesia

Delivered by gas, intravenously or both, general anesthesia makes you unconscious and unaware of your surroundings. While general anesthesia is an option for lengthy dental procedures such as extracting difficult wisdom teeth, it’s used less often in dental practices.

If you’re worried about a painful procedure or just dealing with severe dental anxiety, talk to your dentist about your concerns and your options and their possible side effects. Chances are that your dentist has something to help put your mind and body at ease during your journey to dental wellness!