Most pain control methods used in dentistry are used to either numb the area to be treated or relax the patient. However, there are some dental procedures that are better accomplished when the patient is asleep, under the influence of a general anesthetic.


What is general anesthetic?

General anesthesia is when a patient is in a state of controllable unconsciousness using medications. It is essential for some dental procedures, so that a patient is unaware of the treatment and doesn’t feel pain or move.


Just as local anesthetics work by stopping pain signals from a specified area from reaching the brain, general anesthetics interrupt the same signals but for the whole body. While a patient is under general anesthesia, any form of simulation to the body (such as surgical procedures) does not get processed or recognized by the brain while the general anesthetic is in effect.


How are general anesthetics applied?

Before a procedure, you will usually be taken into a room where the anesthetist will give you the general anesthetics, which can be either:


  • A liquid that is injected into your veins via a cannula (a thin tube that feeds into a vein, usually placed on the back of your hand)
  • A gas that is continually inhaled through a mask


If you need to undergo a procedure that requires you to be asleep, your dentist will discuss any special requirements. You are usually required to restrict your diet before the experience.


What can I feel while under a general anesthetic?

Absolutely nothing. You will be completely unconscious while under general anesthesia, so you won’t feel any pain or be aware of your procedure. The anesthetic will take effect quickly – you’ll feel light-headed for a minute or so before becoming unconscious.


Your anesthetist will usually provide painkilling medicine to make you more comfortable when you regain consciousness after the procedure.


Recovery from general anesthetics

Once the procedure is completed, your anesthetist will stop giving you the anesthetic and you’ll start to wake up. You will likely feel a little groggy and disoriented for a while – don’t worry, this is completely normal.


Your memory, concentration and reflexes can be affected for a day or two after the procedure, so it is advisable to avoid driving, operating heavy machinery, drinking alcohol, and signing any legal documents for around 48 hours.


Are there any side effects of general anesthetics?

Although general anesthetics are completely safe to use, there are some common side effects that your anesthetist will discuss with you. Most of these side effects happen shortly after your procedure, and generally don’t last very long. Possible side effects include:


  • Nausea and vomiting – this often happens immediately, although some patients report feeling sick for up to a day
  • Shivering and feeling cold – usually lasts a few minutes to a few hours


    • Memory loss and confusion – more common with elderly people or those with existing memory issues. It is often temporary, but may occasionally be longer lasting


  • Bladder issues – you may experience some difficulty passing urine
  • Dizziness – you will usually be provided with fluids to treat this
  • Soreness and bruising – occasionally in the area where you were injected
  • Sore throat – if a tube is inserted into your mouth or throat to help you breathe, this may cause a sore throat


Complications and risks of general anesthetics

While general anesthetics are the ideal sedation method for many major dental procedures, there is an element or risk and complications to be aware of. The good news is that these are very rare and only occur in fewer than 1 in 10,000 cases.


Some of the more serious possible risks and complications include:

  • Allergic reaction to the anesthetic – known as anaphylaxis
  • Inherited reaction – which can cause breathing difficulties
  • Waking up during the procedure – this is very rare, and the level of anesthetic you receive will be continually monitored to ensure this doesn’t happen
  • Death – again, this is incredibly rare and only happens in fewer than 1 in 100,000 cases


General anesthetics are the ideal sedation method to ensure you are completely pain-free during any major dental procedures. Your anesthetist will discuss everything you need to know before your procedure, including any possible recovery issues, and the potential risks and complications. However, in almost every case, the benefits of being unaware of the treatment and being completely pain-free during the procedure outweigh the possible risks.