When do I need general anesthesia at the dentist?

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When do I need general anesthesia at the dentist?

Going to the dentist, sleeping through the procedure, and going home without any pain – sounds ideal to many of us and, particularly, for those who suffer from dentophobia. However, it is not quite that easy. In this blog post, we’d like to explore in which cases (and for which dental procedures) general anesthesia can be useful and what kinds of costs and risks you should know about!

For which procedures is general anesthesia useful?

For patients with dentophobia, general anesthesia is often the only way to get through a dental treatment of any kind. The same goes for small children and people with disabilities. Why? Because, for many dental treatments, it is necessary to keep one’s mouth open for extended periods of time, avoid swallowing, and listen and respond to instructions from the dentist. If a patient does not understand the dentist’s directions, bites down abruptly out of fear, or fails to open his or her mouth wide enough, a simple dental procedure can easily turn into a nightmare. In cases of particularly complex or difficult procedures, general anesthesia can be the best way to go. Such procedures include:

  • Total dental restoration
  • Removal of one or more wisdom teeth
  • Procedures on heavily inflamed areas of the jaw
  • Placement of dental implants or bridges (because they require the grinding down of other teeth)
An alternative to total anesthesia is half-sleep (also called sedoanalgesia): It involves a significantly lighter analgesic that is much gentler on the recipient and from which a recipient can easily be woken. To induce half-sleep, the dentist injects the analgesic into the patient’s arm and also administers a local anesthetic inside the patient’s mouth. This combination is usually enough to help the patient relax and make it through the dental procedure without feeling a thing.

How is general anesthesia administered at the dental office?

General anesthesia is not among the procedures that a dentist can administer right away during any appointment. This is because only trained anesthesiologists may do so. Normally, here is how a procedure involving general anesthesia will go:

  1. Prior to the procedure, dentist and patient conduct a thorough conversation to discuss key steps and any associated risks.
  2. Afterwards, depending on the procedure, the dentist may ask the patient to undergo certain tests to make sure that all potential risks are minimized – such tests may include blood tests or an EKG.
  3. After all preparatory work is completed, the dentist compiles a procedure cost estimate for the procedure including general anesthesia. The patient can then take this estimate and bring it to his or her insurance carrier for reimbursement – please find more information about costs below.
  4. For virtually any dental procedure, a patient needs to appear in a sober state, meaning that he should have refrained from consuming any food and drinks, besides water, for at least a few hours prior to his or her appointment.
  5. General anesthesia itself is performed by a specialized anesthesiologist who remains present even during the procedure. The anesthetic itself can be administered via inhalation or intravenously and can last for up to several hours, depending on the procedure.
  6. After the procedure, patients should plan for an additional time buffer to let the anesthetic wear off. Also, it is crucial to remember that patients should not drive home by themselves after their appointment but, rather, ask a family member of a friend to accompany them for safety reasons.

Are there risks associated with general anesthesia?
One thing must be clear: There is no “shortcut” anesthesia – irrespective of the administration method, it always places a strain on the body. With that said, luckily, the risk of such a method of anesthesia resulting in injuries, apnea, or similar complications is much lower for dental procedures than for other surgical procedures. Still, the consultation at the beginning of the procedure is crucial to assess the patient’s overall health status and his or her allergies against medicines, etc. because a stable health status is one of the most important indicators for how well a patient will tolerate general anesthesia.

What does general anesthesia cost?
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The exact costs of general anesthesia depend on the specific procedure during which it is used. Therefore, it is recommended for patients to ask for, and review a detailed cost estimate with their dentists prior to starting the procedure to avoid any potential surprises! Generally, one should budget for several hundred Euros (anywhere between EUR 200 and EUR 1,500).

In certain cases, such as procedures on children at the age of 6 or younger, disabled people, patients with dentophobia, and patients who do not qualify for local anesthesia (e.g., due to allergies), insurance carriers cover the costs of general anesthesia. More information on this is available on the websites of the insurance carriers themselves, such as the website of the Wiener Gebietskrankenkasse.

The general cost reimbursement procedure is pretty much the same for all insurance carriers: First, the patient needs to submit a cost estimate from his or her dentist for approval. After approval and the actual treatment, the patient then has to submit the invoice from the dentist and then receives a certain percentage of the total cost in the form of a reimbursement to his or her account – usually, this percentage equals 80% of the insurer-negotiated fee for a given treatment.

We hope that this information about general anesthesia during dental procedures was helpful to you and best of luck with your next dentist visit!

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