Sedation Dentistry: An Alternative for Anxious Children

Our Dental Blog | Child Dentistry | 07.24.2019

The dentist’s chair can be an unfamiliar and intimidating environment, especially for children. You can explain the benefits of proper dental checkups to your child, but if they are frightened of the experience then they’ll be little inclined to listen to rational reasoning. This can mean a giant headache for everyone involved. What’s more, one bad experience can sit with them long after you’ve left the clinic and form negative associations, making the next visit all the more difficult.

If getting your child to the dentist is putting stress and anxiety on both of you, you might want to consider sedation dentistry. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not just an option for adults.

Sedation dentistry is when a dentist administers sedation to their patient to help them relieve their anxiety and get them through their appointment. Whether it’s for a routine checkup or an invasive procedure, sedation can calm nervous patients and allow the dentist to do their job faster and more efficiently.

Dentists must be accredited in order to offer sedation dentistry. When seeking out a dental clinic that performs sedation dentistry, ask them specifically about their experience in working with children. Most sedation dentistry is administered using light to moderate anesthesia, meaning the patient won’t be fully unconscious during the procedure. Still, it’s important to know how to dose any sort of anesthesia for young patients.

There are four main types of sedation that are used for dentistry:

  • Inhaled Minimal Sedation. You’ve probably heard of laughing gas before. As the name states, it does make you laugh, but it also numbs pain and can make you forget the dental procedure altogether. After all, who wants to hang onto every detail of their last dentist visit? Laughing gas is technically termed Nitrous Oxide and wears off relatively quickly. In a few hours, your child will be back to their normal selves. While the effects wear off, it’s a good idea to keep the rest of their day low-key. We recommend relaxing at home.
  • Oral Sedation. This involves taking a pill. It’s less invasive than Nitrous Oxide because you don’t have to wear a mask, but it can’t be dosed as precisely. Oral sedation can range from mild to moderate, depending on the type of sedation used. Your child might even fall asleep. Fear not, dentists are well-aware that this can happen and are equipped to deal with a child nodding off in their chair.
  • IV Sedation. As the name implies, IV sedation is given via intravenous drip. This isn’t the best method of sedation for children; if there’s one thing kids hate more than going to the dentist, it’s getting needles. IV sedation is generally saved for more serious procedures, or for when you want a patient to be unconscious throughout.
  • Deep Sedation/General Anesthesia. When patients need to be fully unconscious for a procedure, general anesthesia is most effective. This form of sedation is commonly used for surgeries in hospitals and in dental clinics. This is definitely not the first choice for minimally invasive procedures, but it’s useful when there’s more extensive work to be done. General Anesthesia takes the longest to wear off. Sometimes its effects need to be reversed with medication.

Talk to your dentist for guidelines on how to prep your child for sedation dentistry. For safety reasons, You’ll need to restrict their food intake prior to the procedure, otherwise, if a child does not have full reflexes, remaining food and drink in the stomach can be inhaled into the lungs. Also, let your child’s dentist know if they’re taking any prescription drugs. Include everything, even multivitamins. Sedation dentistry is very safe if performed by a qualified administrator, but there are always potential risks.

After sedation, pay close attention to how your child is recovering. A bit of grogginess is to be expected, but it should wear off in a few hours. Check in on their breathing to see if they’re taking full, deep inhalations. It’s better to have two adults accompany a child for sedation dentistry. One can drive home, while the other adult can stay with the child to soothe them and monitor their vital signs.

Sedation dentistry can be an alternative for anxious children to get the best dental care possible. If your child is scared of the dentist’s office and the anxiety is interfering with their routine checkups or preventing the dentist from doing a thorough job, then you may want to look into sedation dentistry. As with any medical decision, speak to a qualified professional to see if your child would be a good candidate based on their age, health, and medical history. A little bit of sedation now could prevent dental issues down the road!

Treehouse Dental provides kid-friendly dental services in Toronto, Thornhill, and Etobicoke. Give us a call at (416) 922-2668 or visit our contact page here for more information or to set up an appointment.

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