Sedation is becoming more and more popular in dentist offices, even for pediatric care, but is it safe for children? It's a fair question for parents who want to make the experience of going to the dentist less stressful for their kids or whose children need more extensive dental care. Sedation and anesthesia are both tools in pediatric dentistry, and as parents, you need to understand how they work and what is and isn't safe for kids.
Why Use Sedation?
If the dentist is suggesting sedation, it’s likely that your dentist is looking to relieve your child’s anxiety. Or, as children like to squirm in the dental chair, a dentist might suggest it for longer procedures to prevent movement or for kids that have a fear of going to the dentist. Sedation is a practical way for parents to ensure kids get the dental care they need without the stress that can sometimes come with going to the dentist.
Is Sedation the Same Thing as General Anesthesia?
General anesthesia is similar but it usually puts the patient to sleep. Sedation, on the other hand, makes them sleepy. General anesthesia is sometimes used in dentistry for certain procedures that can be especially difficult—such as the extraction of wisdom teeth. It is not likely to be the first choice for small children, though, because it can come with some risks.
What Different Types of Sedation Are Available?
There are a few different varieties of sedation used for both children and adults including:
- Oral sedation. Medication is taken by mouth at the office or at home prior to the visit.
- Nitrous oxide. This is a form of gas, sometimes called laughing gas, that a technician administers once your child is in the dental chair to induce a state of calm.
- Intravenous sedation. This involves the introduction of an IV catheter in the patient's arm or hand. The medication goes right into the blood via the catheter.
The dentist may opt for one or more of these sedation treatments to get the desired effect. For example, laughing gas provides short-term sedation that allows the dentist to set up the IV for something last will last longer.
How Safe Is Sedation for Kids?
Administered by a dental or medical professional, sedation is safe for most children as long as it is tolerated well. There are safety nets, such as the monitoring of vital signs, set up when providing sedation to ensure safe use. The office keeps emergency equipment on hand just in case any patient suffers any adverse reaction. The staff is trained to use the emergency tools as well.
What Can Parents Do to Help?
How parents act during trips to the dentist is critical. Pay special attention to any home instructions prior to the office visit. There may be specific rules to follow for safe use of a sedative such as limiting food or drinks a few hours before the appointment.
Once you reach the office, a member of the office staff may need to take vital signs and do some initial tests. You can stay with your child and provide support during this time. Bring a favorite toy or stuffed animal that provides a sense of security for your child to hold while waiting for the sedation. Don't be afraid to hold your child’s hand before the procedure starts, either. The calmer and more reassuring you are, the better. That doesn’t mean you have to stay for the whole procedure, though. You may leave the office as the dentist works and return right before your child comes out of the sedation.
The dentist will provide instructions to follow at home based on the procedure and type of sedation used. For example, you'll want to watch for side effects from the medication such as vomiting or fever.
Sedation is a practical approach to help children get through what can be a difficult process. Few people like going to the dentist, but childhood visits set the tone for adulthood, and sedation can make that easier.