Tooth cavities, or dental caries as they are known in dentistry, are a disease that can easily be thwarted, cured and prevented by making regular trips to the dentist. The bottom line is that everyone needs a dentist. So why do so many people fear going to one, even willing to put up with toothaches and gap-toothed smiles?

One answer to placating the fear and trembling of getting a tooth extracted, cavity filled, even teeth cleaned is sedation dentistry.

According to the Consumer Guide on Dentistry, an estimated 30 percent of Americans avoid going to a dentist due to anxiety and even outright fear known as dental phobia. Some only make emergency visits, which are the most stressful of all,  and others choose, as adults, not to go at all, resigning themselves to losing all their teeth and coping with issues of eating, speaking and smiling.

Reasons for dental phobia range from traumatic childhood experiences at the dentist’s office to fear of needles— those temporary stings that deaden the more oppressive pain of an extraction or drilling a deep cavity.  Even the whining sound of a drill can send some patients into panic mode and a white-knuckled grip on the arms of the dental chair.

Today’s dentist is into comfort, even to the point of pampering a patient reclining in the chair. You might feel that you are getting a spa treatment until the mouth opens and the procedure begins. There are all kinds of theories on how you can rid or reduce the fear of dentistry. The most direct and popular remedy is dental sedation, starting with laughing gas (nitrous oxide) which is a mood enhancer and fear reducer that takes your mind off what is going on inside your mouth.  This is minimal sedation and its effects go away quickly.

There is also a minimal sedation that can be administered orally in pill form about an hour prior to the procedure instead of breathing in gas. You remain conscious but, again, it relaxes you and drowsiness sets in. A higher dosage achieves the level of moderate sedation, and the sedative can be administered intravenously for quicker effect.

Moderate and deep sedation are the higher two levels with some degree of consciousness. Moderate means you are still technically conscious and can speak, though words are often slurred, but you may not remember much after the effects go away.  Deep sedation is often described as being on “the edge of consciousness.”

Last but not least among the levels of sedation is complete unconsciousness from general anesthesia. You are totally out of it, know nothing about what happened, and require as many as six hours of recovery where you will need a ride home and someone to keep an eye on you during that time.

The American Dental Association describes sedation as “an integral part of dental practice.” Wherever you live there is likely a specialist in sedation dentistry.