General Anesthesia Recovery & Postoperative Instructions
General Anesthesia Dentistry

General Anesthesia Recovery

When a dental treatment which is performed under general anesthesia is completed, the anesthesiologist stops the administration of any intravenous or inhalation anesthetic, signaling the start of the final phase of general anesthesia, called emergence. The body starts to return to consciousness and normal function as the effects of the anesthetic medications wear off.

Recovery from General Anesthesia

The duration of the recovery phase after General Anesthesia depends on several factors related to the drugs used and the individual patient’s body response to them, age and general health. Some pre-existing medical conditions may delay the recovery process. In some cases, drug antagonists may be used to reverse the effects of the drugs used during general anesthesia, to speed up the time the body needs to emerge and recover from anesthesia.

When the procedure has ended, the patient is usually transferred to the recovery room, until consciousness is regained and the vital functions return to normal levels. Recovery of consciousness occurs usually within 30 minutes depending upon the duration of surgery. Younger patients usually recover much faster than older ones.

Some of the possible complications of general anesthesia may occur not during the actual procedure but during the emergence and recovery phase. Therefore breathing, blood pressure, heart rate, oxygenation and level of consciousness must continue to be closely monitored. The necessary staff and equipment must remain available in order to deal with any complication may occur. Patients are given oxygen through a breathing mask, until they can start to breathe adequately on their own.

As patients start to wake up from general anesthesia, it is normal to experience some confusion, disorientation, or difficulty thinking clearly. Another very common symptom after waking up is to feel cold and shivering, A warm blanket is usually enough to provide comfort until the body is able again to regulate temperature properly.

Even after emergence from anesthesia, the patient may have regained consciousness and muscle control, but he is not completely recovered. Some of the effects of general anesthesia may persist for several hours after the procedure.

Some numbness or reduced sensation should be expected until the anesthetic wears off completely. Muscle control and coordination may also be affected for several hours after GA.

Nausea and vomiting are also possible symptoms after any type sedation and especially after general anesthesia. Actually, nausea is a common cause when discharge of a patient has to be delayed. The condition may be treated with medications known as antiemetics.

General Anesthesia Post-operative Instructions

When general anesthesia for dental treatments is performed in hospital environment, it is usually done in an outpatient basis, and the patient returns home in the same day.

A patient after GA may be discharged only after the dentist or anesthesiologist confirms that consciousness, muscle control, oxygenation and ventilation are normal, and there are no post-operative effects that would affect patient’s safety. The patient must have adequate level of muscle control and coordination to walk safely, and take fluids without vomiting. Before discharge, patients (and their escorts) are typically given verbal and written post-operative instructions.

  • A friend or family member must be available to drive the patient home, and stay with him for the rest of the day.
  • After returning home from general anesthesia, a good rest for the remaining of the day (and if possible the day after) is recommended.
  • Any medications must be taken only as advised by the dentist or anesthesiologist.
  • Oral intake must be limited only to clear liquids for the first hours. Dairy products and citrus juices must be avoided, because they may cause vomiting. Once clear liquids are tolerated, patient is allowed to try soft foods.
  • Even if the patient feels normal, judgment and reflexes may still be affected for several hours after GA. In some cases the effects of GA may last for some days, especially in older people.
  • Driving, drinking alcohol, operating machinery or taking important decisions should be avoided for at least 24 hours afterwards the GA procedure.
  • The dentist must be consulted if the patient experiences nausea, numbness or any other unfamiliar symptom for longer than expected.
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