Awake or Asleep? Difference between Conscious Sedation & General Anaesthetic

Article by Dr Raha Sepehrara

You might require treatment and have been offered sedation to help quell your fears or to get you through a difficult, lengthy, procedure by remaining calm and pain-free.  You have the choice of conscious sedation or a general anaesthetic and might not know which is the best decision. Conscious sedation is a very effective and viable alternative to a general anaesthetic. The Dental Suite will quash your anxieties and dispel your fears by helping you decide to be awake or to stay asleep during treatment by considering the differences.  

Our aim is to make you comfortable, totally relaxed and safe during your treatment. Conscious sedation and the administration of the sedatives and analgesia results in you becoming drowsy, sleepy and pain-free. You will probably have little recollection of the procedure. Communication is possible during the treatment because even though you are completely relaxed you are not unconscious. Your vital signs, blood pressure, breathing, pulse rate, are monitored throughout to ensure your safety. Recovery after sedation is much faster than with general anaesthetic.  Side effects such as nausea and vomiting, headaches and muscle pains experienced after general anaesthetic are limited. In fact, most patients experience no side effects at all.

There are four principal differences between conscious sedation and a general anaesthetic; safety, level of consciousness, the cost and side effects.

Safety:  With intravenous conscious sedation, the required dose of the drug administered is very low. You remain awake and in control of your breathing and other functions, and you can communicate with your dentist.  

With a general anaesthetic, high doses of drugs are used. The patient is unconscious, and their reflexes are artificially maintained. Naturally, because of the higher dose of drugs, there is also a higher risk than with conscious sedation and needs to be undertaken only by an anaesthetist for the patient’s safety.

The level of consciousness: When you have intravenous conscious sedation you are comfortable, drowsy and very relaxed but remain conscious. You can hear and can be alerted by verbal communication during the procedure if required and you can alert the dentist.

When a patient has a general anaesthetic, the patient is asleep and is unresponsive and remains oblivious throughout the entire procedure.

Side effects: With conscious sedation side effects are minimalised because of the lower dosage of drugs used. There is a significantly reduced incidence of side effects with conscious sedation. You will recover in no time at all if you take it easy after your treatment.

A general anaesthetic can leave the patient feeling debilitated for some time due to the high dose of drugs used to keep the patient under for the procedure.  The drugs can take an extended period to work their way through your system before you get back to normal.

Costs: Conscious sedation is considerably cheaper than general anaesthetic. Conscious sedation is carried out by your dentist at your dental practice, and you go to the comfort of your own home immediately following treatment.  

A general anaesthetic requires an operating theatre and an anaesthetist to administer the drugs and remain in surgery throughout the procedure to monitor your vital functions while you are unconscious.  You will require time to recover in hospital delaying your return home, and this creates additional costs.

With conscious sedation many patients frequently report that they were “asleep” during the procedure when, in fact, they were awake but remember nothing at all.

If you would like further information on conscious sedation, please contact The Dental Suite so that we can go through all your options



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