Recovering From Dental Sedation: How Long Does It Take for Sedation to Wear Off?

Updated on April 14, 2023
Dental drills and instruments close up

Not everyone looks forward to their visit with the dentist. Either due to a past traumatic experience or general fear of doctors — going to the dentist makes lots of patients anxious. Luckily, modern medicine has tools to keep this anxiety at bay. 

Dental sedation is a popular option that promises less pain and anxiety to dental patients. There are three levels of sedation: minimal, moderate, and deep. Another method of dental sedation is through general anesthesia, which is used mostly for rigorous and time-consuming dental procedures. The level of sedation will depend on a myriad of factors such as a patient’s health, age, medical condition, etc. These factors must be carefully assessed by the professional performing the procedure. Note that all types of sedation require the patient to avoid eating heavily for eight hours and drinking clear liquids for two hours before the procedure. 

Types of Minimal Sedation

There are two types of minimal sedation: nitrous oxide (or “laughing gas”) and oral sedation. 

Laughing Gas: How Long Does Nitrous Oxide Last?

Nitrous oxide, more popularly known as “laughing gas,” provides temporary sedation and is administered via mask or nosepiece inhalation. 

While it is relatively safe, the use of laughing gas is not advisable for those patients that are in the early stage of pregnancy (first trimester) or those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency, cobalamin deficiency, bleomycin sulfate, or any history of drug addiction. 

It is dubbed as “laughing gas” because it induces a euphoric effect as well as a sensation of numbness in the patient once inhaled. This effect is easily reversible by administering pure oxygen to the patient. 

No special preparation is needed before nitrous oxide sedation is performed. Once administered, laughing gas works within two to three minutes. Once the mask or nosepiece is removed, the effect wears off just as easily. Reports of serious risks are relatively low; however, there are still side effects that patients can experience, such as shivering, headache, nausea, and vomiting. Patients can drive themselves home after the procedure is over. 

Oral Sedation: What to Expect After?

Oral sedation is done by ingesting a sedative pill prescribed by the dentist at least one hour before the procedure. Similarly, oral sedation has very minimal side effects, which makes it a viable choice for most patients. Side effects could include headache, drowsiness, dry mouth, and loss or fogginess of memory, but these easily wear off after a couple of hours. 

While it is generally a good option, it still has some contraindications, such as early pregnancy, alcohol intoxication, depression, and some instances of glaucoma. Much like laughing gas sedation, there is no prescribed preparation before undergoing oral sedation, except for eating and drinking restrcitions.  

It will take at least two to eight hours after the pill is ingested for the side effects to wear off. Since the effect lasts longer, the patient would need to be assisted in getting home once the procedure is done. 

Moderate Sedation: How Long Does Effect Last?

There are two types of moderate sedation: peroral sedation, where sedation is administered through a sedative medicine, oftentimes in the form of a pill; and intravenous, where the sedation medication is administered intravenously or through the veins. 

Since the patient will receive a higher dose of sedation, dizziness, nausea, slurring of speech, and temporary memory loss can be expected upon waking up. There are also contraindications, such as early pregnancy, allergic reactions to sedatives, and the use of contraindicated drugs. 

The effects of the sedation wear off 30 minutes to an hour. The patient will be monitored until until they are evaluated as being able to protect their airway. After that, most patients will have recovered sufficiently enough to leave the recovery area. However, patients could still feel uneasy, groggy, or tired — but these symptoms will be gone after 24 hours. Most medicial facilities will require the patient to arrange for  someone else to drive themhome after the procedure. 

This level of sedation is the deepest among conscious sedation. The sedated patient should be closely monitored: pulse, breathing, and blood pressure should be measured during the procedure. It is therefore important that certified and accredited professionals perform the sedation. Healthcare professionals can brush up on their knowledge and get training in best practices for sedation online — by completing moderate sedation training.

Deep Sedation: What You Need to Know Before Procedure 

Deep sedation requires additional training to administer. This is often the form of sedation used by oral surgeons when a deeper level of sedation is needed to perform the necessary work.  A good example of this extraction of wisdom teeth.

Once deep sedation is administered, the patient will be in an altered state of consciousness, sometimes characterized as “light sleep,” and will usually have no recollection of the dental procedure after waking up. 

Common side effects include drowsiness, inability to focus, dry mouth, nausea, and even vomiting. Patient’s undergoing deep sedation should be carefully evaluated before the procedure. Patients with obesity or Obstructive Sleep Apnea (OSA) have an increased risk associated with sedation. If there is any medication that you need to take before the procedure, it is advisable to take them with the smallest sip of water possible as liquids are prohibited.

Once the procedure is over and deep sedation is lifted, the patient will begin to wake up within 20 minutes and be up and about within six hours. Since it will take time before the effects are completely flushed from the patient’s system, it is not advisable for the patient to drive home — they should arrange for a ride. 

Like with moderate sedationl, dentists would generally put the patient under observation and wait for them to fully wake up before they are to be allowed to go home, due to the strong effects of the sedation. 

General Anesthesia: When You Can Return to Usual Life

General anesthesia is usually administered before a complicated dental procedure or for patients with extreme anxiety over dental procedures. It is also used when treating patients with special needs such as autism, although it is best to have a thorough check of medical history to determine if general anesthesia is the best option. 

There are some reported side effects of general anesthesia, which include nausea, vomiting, slurred speech, shivering, confusion, hallucination, and pain at the injection site, among others. Pregnant women as well as patients with acute infectious disease or decompensated heart failure are not suited to undergo general anesthesia during their dental procedure. 

Once general anesthesia is administered, the patient will fall into a deep sleep. They will be completely unconscious and need a breathing tube. The patient will experience no pain at all during the procedure and will have no recollection of it when they wake up. After the procedure, it may take the patient at least 30 to 45 minutes to be fully awake, and another 24 hours to fully recover. The patient who has received general anesthesia will be monitored for at least 1 hour, or until the recovery personnel can assure that the patient is easily arousible and can protect their airway. 

Care Instructions After Sedation

Understandably, patients would like to go back to their normal day-to-day routine as soon as possible after their dental appointments. However, dental sedation has side effects that could limit your activities for a limited time. Depending on the level of sedation, sedation medicines can alter the patient’s consciousness and cause headaches, nausea, or dizziness. 

Here are a few tips patients should use during the recovery period:

  1. Plenty of rest. It is important to rest after undergoing a dental procedure — to wait off the side effects and observe for any side effects that might manifest.
  2. Healthy food. Part of recovering is eating healthy food to provide the patient with the nutrients that the body needs to fully recover. Depending on the procedure, soft easy to chew foods maybe best.
  3. Lots of fluids. Drinking a lot of water will keep the patient hydrated and help with recovery.
  4. No strenuous activities or heavy lifting. To avoid unnecessary pressure on the body, it is best to park these kinds of activities and resume them after full recovery.
  5. Taking medications prescribed by the dentist. If the dentist prescribed medications to address pain or discomfort, it is important to take them. 
  6. No alcohol or smoking. Consuming alcohol or smoking could counter the effects of the medications and exacerbate side effects. 
  7. Contacting the dentist in case of issues. Sedation poses very minimal risks to patients. However, if the patines experiences heavy side effects or still hasn’t fully recovered after 24 hours from the procedure, then it is advisable to reach out to the dentist for medical advice.
  8. Avoid legal decisions. Do not make any legal decisions for 24 hours after sedation is given.

Dental sedation is a routine procedure that can help alleviate pain and anxiety in patients. The level and type of sedation should be chosen based on the patient’s medical history and the specifics of the procedure. 

The Editorial Team at Healthcare Business Today is made up of skilled healthcare writers and experts, led by our managing editor, Daniel Casciato, who has over 25 years of experience in healthcare writing. Since 1998, we have produced compelling and informative content for numerous publications, establishing ourselves as a trusted resource for health and wellness information. We offer readers access to fresh health, medicine, science, and technology developments and the latest in patient news, emphasizing how these developments affect our lives.