Imagine being roofied, but instead of getting sexually violated in your spaced out state, you get all your plaque and tartar removed. Professionally.
That’s the basic idea behind sedation dentistry. Dentists, realizing that most people severely dislike having sharp metal and strange phalanges enter their mouth, have found a way to triple the number of patients they see each day: Drugs. Good ones.
Admittedly, the roofie analogy may be a bit hyperbolic. After all, patients of sedation dentistry — unlike college freshman — are well aware of the pharmacological agents they’re taking, and the intended effects. But you get the picture.
Sedation dentistry is a hit with both patients and practitioners: Patients have their primal fears and anxieties alleviated long enough to bitch-slap decay and gingivitis, while practitioners earn enough extra cash to build a new wing onto their beach house.
Which brings us to the only real drawback of sedation dentistry: The cost. It can be prohibitively expensive for the average Joe. Many insurance companies won’t cover it unless it is deemed medically necessary. And let’s face it, unless you suffer from seizures or Tourette Syndrome, receiving sedation to have your teeth cleaned or lightly drilled is not medically necessary.
But don’t let your lack of disposable income dash your dreams of pain- and panic-free dentistry. Instead, consider taking care of the sedation part yourself. Fortunately, there are several options available to you:
Benzodiazepines. Popping a Valium, Xanax or other benzo half an hour prior to your appointment will give you the most authentic sedation dentistry experience. After all, these are the drugs most commonly administered by actual licensed practitioners.
Benzos are ideal for people who suffer moderate to severe anxiety before and during routine checkups. If you have a history of vomiting or cutting yourself over the mere thought of a professional dental cleaning, benzos are the way to go.
Narcotic painkillers. Vicodin, OxyContin, Percocet or Percodan can help to reduce anxiety with the added benefit of making you feel invincible. It’s not uncommon for patients who pop these pills to dare the dentist to pull out all their healthy teeth without the use of anesthesia. In most cases, the dentist declines.
One of the benefits of narcotic painkillers is that they make it easier (than benzos) to remain awake throughout the appointment, which is important if you don’t want to miss your chance to rinse or to receive your free toothbrush.
Marijuana. Now we are moving into less conventional methods of DIY sedation for dental visits. Marijuana — though rarely if ever administered by licensed dental practitioners outside of Amsterdam or Humboldt County — can certainly help to relax patients enough to get them through a cleaning or other basic procedure. It’s often a little easier to score than pain meds or benzos; however, there is a greater chance that patients who use marijuana just prior to a checkup will develop serious concerns about the dentist or hygienist being an undercover cop.
If you do choose THC to sedate you at the D.D.S., it’s recommended you use a vaporizer rather than a bowl, bong or joint. Most dental practitioners will refuse to treat you if marijuana smoke comes billowing out of your mouth during an appointment. And even if they do decide to proceed, the contact high they receive could have detrimental effects on their performance — possibly leaving you bleeding or blind.
If you cannot get your hands on or afford a vaporizer, consider ingesting marijuana brownies prior to your dental visit. Just be sure the brownie mix is sugar-free — otherwise it somewhat defeats the purpose.
Alcohol. For those of you who are desperate for low-stress dental care but who have no solid drug connections, there is always liquor. If it was good enough to anesthetize cowboys in the Old West during root canals and bullet extractions, it’s good enough to deaden your fear and minor discomfort during your biannual exam.
Take a shot or four of vodka, whiskey or tequila within an hour of your appointment, and then suck on five Hall’s cough drops 10 minutes before the appointment. If the dentist or hygienist asks why your breath is so mentholated, tell them you have a cold. If they ask why you keep falling out of the exam chair, hiccupping, and trying to pick fights with other patients, tell them you just returned from Afghanistan.
Radiohead. If drug or alcohol use is out of the question (e.g., you are straight edge, a recovering addict/alcoholic, exceedingly boring, etc.), you might consider listening to painfully depressing music to help take your mind off your dental angst. Many patients who’ve listened to Radiohead’s Ok Computer album in its entirety leading right up to their visit to the dentist report excellent results. Others have had similar success with The Smiths, Snow Patrol or Nick Drake.
Should you decide to give this approach a go, be careful not to overdo it or mix the aforementioned musicians. Doing so could result in you aggressively pleading with the dentist to jab your gums with a hook just so you can feel something.
NOTE: Regardless of which method of DIY sedation you select, be sure you have somebody to drive you to and from the dentist office — preferably somebody who hasn’t gotten into your stash or listened to your music.
Sedation dentistry. You owe it to your teeth and gums. Your liver will forgive you.