How safe is deep sedation or general anesthesia while providing dental care?

J Am Dent Assoc. 2015 Sep;146(9):705-8. doi: 10.1016/j.adaj.2015.04.005.


Background: Deep sedation and general anesthesia are administered daily in dental offices, most commonly by oral and maxillofacial surgeons and dentist anesthesiologists.

Methods: The goal of deep sedation or general anesthesia is to establish a safe environment in which the patient is comfortable and cooperative. This requires meticulous care in which the practitioner balances the patient's depth of sedation and level of responsiveness while maintaining airway integrity, ventilation, and cardiovascular hemodynamics.

Results: Using the available data and informational reports, the authors estimate that the incidence of death and brain injury associated with deep sedation or general anesthesia administered by all dentists most likely exceeds 1 per month.

Conclusions: Airway compromise is a significant contributing factor to anesthetic complications. The American Society of Anesthesiology closed claim analysis also concluded that human error contributed highly to anesthetic mishaps. The establishment of a patient safety database for anesthetic management in dentistry would allow for a more complete assessment of morbidity and mortality that could direct efforts to further increase safe anesthetic care.

Practical implications: Deep sedation and general anesthesia can be safely administered in the dental office. Optimization of patient care requires appropriate patient selection, selection of appropriate anesthetic agents, utilization of appropriate monitoring, and a highly trained anesthetic team. Achieving a highly trained anesthetic team requires emergency management preparation that can foster decision making, leadership, communication, and task management.

Keywords: Morbidity and mortality; deep sedation; general anesthesia; patient safety; risk assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Anesthesia, Dental / adverse effects*
  • Anesthesia, Dental / methods
  • Anesthesia, Dental / mortality
  • Anesthesia, General / adverse effects*
  • Anesthesia, General / methods
  • Deep Sedation / adverse effects*
  • Deep Sedation / methods
  • Humans
  • Monitoring, Physiologic
  • Risk Factors