anesthesia vs sedation

Anesthesia vs. Sedation

anesthesia vs sedation


Anesthesia and sedation are two common terms heard in our dental practice. Some patients mistakenly use them interchangeably, and while they serve similar functions, they are not the same thing. What is the difference when it comes to anesthesia vs. sedation, and how are they used? Lifetime Family Dental in Gilbert has some answers for you.

Anesthesia vs. Sedation

In dentistry, there are some drugs that are used to control pain, and other drugs that are used to create a state of relaxation. The medications used to control pain fall under the category of local anesthesia (general anesthesia causes a temporary loss of consciousness and is used for complex surgical dental procedures like wisdom tooth removal). In dentistry, sedatives are generally used to treat anxiety.


Local anesthesia and sedation often work together to create a more comfortable dental experience for some patients. At Lifetime Family Dental, we use both local anesthetics and sedatives, but for different reasons. To address issues of dental anxiety, sedation is used. To alleviate pain both during and after a dental procedure, anesthesia is recommended.

Local anesthesia for pain

Local anesthesia is used to numb a specific area of the mouth before an invasive dental procedure. A topical anesthetic containing benzocaine or lidocaine is used to numb the gums before insertion of a needle. It is effective to a depth of 2-3mm. It can be applied as a gel, liquid, ointment or spray, and is relatively fast-acting.


Soon after applying the topical anesthetic, an injectable anesthetic can be used with minimal discomfort. This medication will numb the deeper areas of tissue around the tooth. It is commonly used for filling cavities, preparing a tooth for a crown, and for treating gum disease. The various compounds can include lidocaine, mepivacaine, articaine, prilocaine and bupivacaine. Their use depends on how long the area needs to numb, and the maximum dosage allowed. The medication type and amount we choose is based on the age and weight of the patient. It needs to be effective long enough to complete the procedure, but not so strong as to cause injury.


Some patients will need a pain reliever after the local anesthesia wears off. The most common are non-narcotic pain relievers containing acetaminophen and NSAIDs such as ibuprofen. Depending on the type of procedure and the amount of work done, an opioid may be prescribed.

Sedation for relaxation

Dental anxiety affects approximately 15% of all dental patients. For these folks, sedation dentistry is available for an increased comfort level. When a patient is terrified of a dental visit, sedation can be the difference between making an appointment or risking compromised oral health.


Sedation can be administered as a gas, a pill, a liquid or an injection. It can be used before or during a procedure. The effects range from mild euphoria to semi-consciousness. For more specifics, consult our blog post here.


Pain-Free Dentistry at LFD

Lifetime Family Dental in Gilbert is committed to your oral health. Anesthesia and sedation are two important elements that we use to make every dental visit a welcoming and pleasant experience. You can trust that we will do as much as we can to give you a pain-free, worry-free experience in our office. We are currently taking every necessary precaution in light of COVID-19. Refer to this blog post for a full update.



Images used under creative commons license (Commerical Use) 03/29/20 Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst