What are the chances I could die during sedation?

I’m scheduled to see the sedation dentist in three weeks to have my wisdom teeth pulled.  I’m normally an anxious patient anyway and I really don’t feel comfortable having the work done unless I take the medication. I just saw on the news that a little girl died while at the sedation dentist, so I started looking around and found another case happened earlier this year, too. I’m kind of freaking out now! I’m worried that something really bad is going to happen to me when I go in. How dangerous is it to see a sedation dentist? I may just try to tough it out without the medications. — Paula

There is some risk when any type of sedative is given and your doctor should inform you of this. However, the odds of anything happening are very small. It’s so rare that most dentists will never see an issue in their entire career.

The biggest risks come in when you go under for complete anesthesia, and even then,  the chances of having a problem are still very small. However, a sedation dentist doesn’t generally use full anesthesia. He or she will give you medications that will relax you, but not put you totally to sleep. This is a huge difference because they aren’t known for slowing down your body or respiration as much. They mostly make you groggy instead. In some cases, the medications are basic anti-anxiety medications, just in high doses. Your sedation dentist will review your medical history, check your current medications, and compare everything in advance, just to make sure you get the right doses of the right medications before the procedure.

On top of this, your sedation dentist has to undergo extensive training to be able to provide the service, and this includes learning how to handle emergencies. The most important thing when a patient has a medical emergency is for the doctor to recognize it and call an ambulance right away. In rare cases like the ones you mention, the patient is usually given complete anesthesia and the doctor waited to call emergency services.

For your peace of mind, you should talk to the doctor in advance. Ask questions about how they’ll monitor you. Will they make sure you’re getting enough oxygen? Will they monitor your heart rate? Will a trained associate stay with you and monitor you the whole time you’re there? Do they have an emergency protocol to follow if there is some kind of emergency or if you have a reaction to the medication? If they have these measures in place, and they should, then you can rest assured you’re in good hands.

This blog is brought to you by Dr. Alana Macalik. For more information on the services she provides, visit her Arlington cosmetic dentist website.