While general anesthesia (GA) is frequently used for both major and minor surgeries in hospital settings, its use in dentistry is not so common. Dentists do, of course, use several methods of anesthesia and sedation but GA is usually used only as a last resort for particularly difficult procedures or patients whose fear of the dentist is extreme.
There are several reasons for this, but chief among them is the fact that, unlike other forms of sedation, GA knocks you out completely. This is not ideal for the dentist. In dentistry, it is very helpful when the patient is conscious and aware of their surroundings.
While under some form of sedation, you can still respond to questions and move, all of which help the dentist perform their jobs. Under GA, you will be completely unconscious and unresponsive. Below we’ll take a more detailed look at why, when it comes to general anesthesia, dentistry practitioners try to avoid it, and the cases where it may be necessary.
Why Dentists Avoid GA
Danger to the Patient
The use of GA, even in hospitals, is not without its dangers to the patients. As well as rendering you unconscious, GA also slows down your cardiovascular and respiratory systems. While this poses minimal risk to most people, it can prove fatal if you are suffering from any undiscovered heart or respiratory conditions. That is why anyone who is about to undergo GA must first have bloodwork, x-rays, and an ECG done.
It is Expensive
The administration of general anesthesia is a very specialized medical field. The specific dosage needs to be calculated correctly and constantly monitored, as do your heart rate, breathing, and other vital signs. This generally requires the services of a trained and qualified anesthesiologist, as well as specialized equipment. This all adds considerably to the cost of any procedures where it is required.
Lack of Responsiveness
General anesthesia knocks you out cold. Not only will you not be able to answer questions or react to probes, but your body will also be a dead weight that will have to be repositioned constantly by the dentist and their team. This will make any procedure more complicated and tiring for the dentist.
Lack of Access
Because GA slows down your respiratory system, you’ll need a tube down your throat to help you breathe. This tube, and the fact that your tongue will be sticking out to accommodate it make it very difficult for the dentist to reach all the areas of your mouth that they need to and will necessitate constant repositioning of your head and body.
When GA is used
Despite all the reasons that we have just given against the use of general anesthetic, it is still sometimes the best option for both dentist and patient, usually in the following circumstances,
- Tooth Extraction
While most extractions can be done using just sedation, there can be some cases when anesthesia is used for; wisdom teeth extraction where the tooth is compounded, for example, or other cases where there are added complications that would make the procedure too long and painful for normal sedation to be effective.
- Extreme Fear of the Dentist
Apart from anesthesia for tooth extraction, GA can also be used to tackle extreme cases of nerve problems. While a responsible dentist will explore every other option first, sometimes the only way to get someone in the chair is to knock them out cold.
Some people have such an extreme fear of dentists that they would rather let every tooth they have rot and fall out of their heads than have them looked at. In cases like this, the dangers posed by neglected dental health outweigh the dangers of general anesthesia.
It may sound like the easiest option, go to the dentist, get knocked out and wake up a few hours later when it is all over, but as you can see it is not as simple as that. GA has its place in the dentist’s arsenal but it is usually a method of last resort due to the expense, risk, and inconvenience it involves. If you are wondering what kind of sedation would be appropriate for you, book an appointment today and we will be happy to explore the options available to you.