Should Kids Be Sedated at the Dentist?
- August 22nd, 2018
- Dental Sedation
With any medical procedure, there are certain risks. So, it’s no surprise many parents can be concerned when their special needs child requires sedation for dental work. From tooth extractions to cavity fillings, the child must remain calm and cooperative for the treatment to go smoothly.
What is Sedation?
Sedation involves administering a drug to either numb or render a patient unconscious for a period of time. In dentistry, it has been particularly useful to children who are nervous. However, sedation is quite safe.
There are three types of sedation:
- Administered through the mouth or nose as soon as the patient arrives in the office
- Takes 20 minutes to take effect
- Does not put the child to sleep but simply keeps them calm and relaxed
- Also known as laughing gas, helps the child stay calm
- Administered through a mask
- Contains nitrous oxide and oxygen
- Pure oxygen is given to the child at the end to clear out remaining nitrous oxide
- Puts the child into a deep sleep
- Administered through a needle in the child’s vein, usually on the back of the hand
- A tube is also inserted through the child’s mouth to help with breathing
Sometimes, children can fall into a deeper state of sedation than was intended. This is why it’s important to have a conversation with your dentist about emergency precautions. Ask them what protocol is in place in the rare event your child cannot breathe on their own. Before sedation, follow the instructions of your dentist and their team carefully.
What Are the Risks of Sedation for a Child?
Although sedation is a typically safe procedure, children under 6 years of age are at a greater risk of adverse effects. That’s because young children have small airways that can easily become blocked. Obese children are also at greater risk. Sedatives don’t metabolize as quickly when stored in fat cells, resulting in a longer recovery time.
The dentist will first monitor the child’s blood oxygen level, blood pressure, temperature and heart rate before administering any type of sedation. Parents can also help them stay relaxed by providing encouragement and comfort.
Are There Alternatives to Sedation for Children?
Sedation is usually not for routine dental work like a cleaning and should be used on children only when absolutely necessary. If your 4-year-old is having a root canal, for example, then sedation may be required. But for less serious cavities, sedation is not necessary.
Some dentists will treat the cavity by brushing a liquid called silver diamine fluoride over the damaged tooth to stop the infection. This liquid may darken the decayed area but the baby teeth eventually fall out. Consider asking your child’s dentist about temporary fillings too.
Many dental professionals agree that sedation should never be used as the first line of treatment when kids are receiving dental work. There are often less invasive ways to treat a child’s teeth.
Is My Dentist Qualified to Sedate a Child?
Not all dentists are qualified to administer sedatives to children. No matter what kind of training they have received, this is an area where hands-on clinical experience matters. Your dentist must be able to identify whether a child is ready for sedation. They must also be ready to spring into action if a child is oversedated. This is why pediatric dentists train in this area for an additional two to three years.
Moderate sedation requires more watchfulness than normal. This is because a child could easily slip into deep sedation and may not be able to breathe on their own. Always ask your dental clinic what drugs they use to bring your child back to moderate sedation. They should also have the appropriate equipment to monitor oxygen and heart levels.
Another benefit of pediatric dentists is that they’re often very good at relating to kids. They’re gentle and know how to keep things light-hearted, so your child stays calm.
Following the procedure, parents should always be present as the sedative wears off. When administered in a safe environment, sedation is an effective way to administer essential dental work to a child.