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Sedation during dental procedures is risky business

No one really enjoys going to the dentist. In fact, it terrifies some people to the point that they ask to be sedated for even a simple teeth cleaning. Because sedation is attractive to patients and brings in extra revenue, many dentists are increasingly willing to provide some level of anesthesia to put patients under even for simple procedures. Unfortunately, sedation can be dangerous if not properly handled, with risks including nausea, headaches, neurological problems and even death.

Since 2007, 18,000 dentists have taken weekend courses in oral sedation. Although the sedation process is presented as an easy procedure, many dentists agree that nothing could be further from the truth. Whether in the form of nitrous oxide gas, an intravenous sedative, pills or some combination of the three, dosage and constant monitoring of vital signs is critical to ensuring patient safety.

Sedation is categorized based on how a patient can respond to outside stimulation. The four categories are minimal, moderate, deep and general anesthesia. Minimal sedation reduces anxiety but allows patients to maintain full consciousness. Moderate sedation lets patients stay conscious enough to respond to simple commands like opening or closing their mouths, but usually spares them the memory of the procedure. No matter the level, there are risks to consider.

Nitrous oxide gas is the most common form of dental sedation. However, recent research suggests prolonged nitrous oxide exposure can negatively affect bone marrow and the nervous system. The symptoms can include a feeling of pins and needles in arms and legs, uncontrollable bodily movements, difficulty walking and bladder or bowel impairment. These symptoms are not permanent but may last for days at a time. Some patients also have allergic reactions to anesthesia.

Children seem to be especially susceptible to anesthesia's ill effects and deaths do sometimes occur as a result of the sedation. Over the past 15 years, 31 child deaths have been linked to dental sedation. However, anesthesia is a risky business no matter the setting. In 2011, the German Medical Association released a paper documenting that anesthesia-related deaths are on the rise worldwide. Specifically, one in 20 patients treated with general anesthesia die within one year of exposure.

Dental sedation can be dangerous and even fatal. While some states require some form of training or licensing, many do not and dentists are left to do as they please. If you or a loved one has been injured because of sedation during a dental procedure, contact an experienced attorney to discuss your situation and your options and to make sure the responsible parties are held accountable.