Sedation Dentistry for Children

In contrast to general anesthesia (which renders the child unconscious), dental sedation is only intended to reduce the child’s anxiety and discomfort during dental visits.  In some cases, the child may become drowsy or less active while sedated, but this will quickly desist after the procedure is completed.

When is sedation used?

Sedation is used in several circumstances.  Firstly, very young children are often unable to keep still long enough for the pediatric dentist to perform high-precision procedures safely.  Sedation makes the visit less stressful for both children and adults and vastly reduces the risk of injury.  Secondly, some children struggle to manage anxiety during dental appointments.  Sedation helps them to relax, cope, and feel happier about treatment.  Thirdly, sedation is particularly useful for children with special needs. It prevents spontaneous movement, and guides cooperative behavior.

What are the most common types of sedation?

Most pediatric dentists have several sedation options available, and each one comes with its own particular benefits.  The dentist will assess the medical history of the child, the expected duration of the procedure, and the child’s comfort level before recommending a method of sedation.

The major methods of conscious sedation are described below:

Nitrous oxide - The pediatric dentist may recommend nitrous oxide (more commonly known as “laughing gas”) for children who exhibit particular signs of nervousness or anxiety.  Nitrous oxide is delivered via a mask, which is placed over the child’s nose.  Nitrous oxide is always combined with oxygen – meaning that the child can comfortably breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth.

Laughing gas relaxes children extremely quickly, and can produce happy, euphoric behavior.  It is also quick acting, painless to deliver, and wears off within a matter of minutes.  Before removing the mask completely, the pediatric dentist delivers regular oxygen for several minutes, to ensure the nitrous oxide is eliminated from the child’s body.  On rare occasions, nitrous oxide may cause nausea. For this reason, most pediatric dentists suggest minimal food intake prior to the appointment.

Oral sedation - Children who are particularly anxious, or unable to control their muscles for prolonged periods, may be offered an oral sedative.  

What about general anesthetic?

General anesthetic (which puts the child in a deep sleep), can be used for dental care unless:

  • A procedure cannot otherwise be performed safely.
  • The child has special health care needs which limits cooperation or if the child is very young.
  • The child needs a lengthy treatment.
  • The child needs more complex dental treatment or oral surgery.

General anesthetic requires more intensive preparation before the treatment and a longer period of recovery after the treatment.  

If you have questions or concerns about sedation techniques, please contact our practice.

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