What’s it Like to Have a Dental Sedation?

Trigger Warning: Dental treatment, needles, blood and drugs (prescribed).

‘It’s at the top, it’ll just twist out, no problem’

The shaking of my head is my way of saying ‘Sayeed, I appreciate your no-nonsense approach to my dental treatment, but there’s literally no f*cking way that’s going to happen.’ Of course, he’s a dentist and not a mind reader; so I had to tell him in similar, although less colourful, words. The other option was sedation – a needle in the hand, feeling very sleepy, and remembering nothing afterwards. Wizard. Send off the referral.

Stage 1: ‘Bite here and stand very still’

‘You’ll need to collect a form and go for an OPG.’ An OPG, or orthopantomogram (now I know why they NEVER said it in full) is a panoramic x-ray of your mouth – not the most exciting panoramic image ever, I’ll admit. Facial nerves and sinus cavities can run very close to where your wisdom teeth are located in your mouth, so an OPG helps to make sure that precautions can be taken if it looks like extraction may be problematic. If you go to a drop-in clinic as I did, you’ll spend longer waiting to be seen by a radiologist than the dozen or so seconds it takes to whizz the plates around your head – then you can be on your way.


While waiting for my referral to go through, I developed an infection in the tooth. One Friday night, I cuddled up to my mum on the sofa with only a slightly effective ice pack pressed to my face, desperate to cry but also reasonably knowing that would make the pain worse. I’ve had an abscess before, a root canal had to be done – this was more painful.

The dentist told me on Monday – if you get extreme pain that won’t go away, especially if you have a fever or swelling, phone an emergency dentist (here’s information on how to find an emergency NHS dentist). If it’s unbearable, go to A&E. Always follow the instructions on any over-the-counter painkillers and avoid aspirin if bleeding may be an issue. One course of antibiotics later, the pain was back to ‘just really irritating’ rather than get me some pliers.

Stage 2: Caroline cannot follow simple instructions

You should know before you get a consultation to discuss sedation, that if you are referred to another surgery for your extraction under sedation, you will pay the Band 2 charge again – be aware of this when making your decision – as I had to find an extra £56 right before Christmas!

The consultation is to make sure you’re healthy enough to be sedated, so it’s the usual health MOT with a nurse. My height hasn’t changed in 10 years, my weight in about 10 months, and I’m fully expecting that my blood pressure will be elevated because I’m anxious as f*ck.

‘You need to stop talking while I do the BP.’ Sorry nurse! I pretend like it’s story time in primary school and put my finger to my lip. When the nurse rolls her eyes and reminds me that she’s already asked me, twice, to put my arms down at my sides, my mum starts killing herself laughing in the corner of the room. My BP is perfect though.

The dentist almost repeats word-for-word what Sayeed had said about it popping out, but also tells me that I have ‘rubbish veins,’ so that fills me with confidence. If I don’t have any questions, it’s a consent form for me, a form for my mum to sign to say she won’t let me make any ‘irreversible decisions’ for 24 hours post-sedation, and I can book in.

Stage 3: ‘When the swirly artex ceiling looks like it’s moving, that’s when we’re ready to start

The nurse doing my blood pressure today is much less demanding, although my blood pressure is no less perfect. A doctor prods my left hand repeatedly, wondering aloud if I remembered to bring my blood with me to this appointment. My hands are cold but my head is hot and my fear of needles – which I’d concluded was less pressing than my fear of dental treatment – was threatening to put a stop to the whole thing. My best friend Laura had suggested hydration and talking as my best strategies, and she was correct (as always). Mum figured that ranty feminist was by far the best conversational option, and I was distracted long enough talking to the dentist about my role in this amazing feminist magazine for the cannula to be placed. Showtime.

The next 20 minutes flew over in about 20 seconds; once they covered my eyes so that I couldn’t see, everything just melts away as far as my memory is concerned – precisely what they all said would happen. At one point I remember moaning – presumably in pain – and hearing someone say ‘give her some more’ (sedative? Local anaesthetic? I don’t know) but then my eyes were uncovered and two nurses very slowly into recovery, my mouth full of local anaesthetic I didn’t remember, cotton wadding I only vaguely understand I need to bite down on, and one less tooth.

I don’t know how long I sat waiting for the blood to clot and the needle to be removed from my hand, it simultaneously felt like hours and no time at all. I was to take pain medication as soon as the local anaesthetic started to wear off and take it easy for the next 24 hours. No problems.

Stage 4: ‘It’s not even been 24 hours, Caroline, go back to bed and let yourself recover

According to my Fitbit, from Thursday through Sunday, I averaged roughly 12 hours of sleep a day. My first meal on Thursday was a hearty mashed potato, carrot and swede and gravy, and it was magic. The hole where my tooth had been removed hurt less than the tooth had been hurting – according to mum the tooth had signs of infection in it when it was removed.

I kept up my painkillers (I take strong codeine for chronic pain) and avoided aspirin or anything else that could cause bleeding to start up again. I spent so much time in bed that my memory foam will well and truly never forget me. I found it hard to slow down – I assumed I’d do just fine, but I found that I am so used to keeping going with chronic pain that I struggled with not doing any editing or cooking my own meals. Recovery is so important with these things, I had to try my hardest to actually relax, but I think I managed to give it a pretty good go (Sunday’s Merseyside derby excepted).

I returned to work four days later, after doing a whole lot of nothing – Monday morning. Things are still a little sore, but it’s nothing I can’t deal with and it does seem to be improving. I’ve just had a lovely soak in a nice hot bubble bath, and I’m off to go and try and keep up my sleep stat average!

I am totally excited for the day when I’ll be able to eat on the left side again though.


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