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Dental Sedation for Kids: What Parents Should Know

Children require many of the same dental procedures as adults, from routine examinations and cleanings to fillings and oral surgery. Many pediatric dentists administer some degree of sedation, which can greatly facilitate the procedure while giving young patients an easier, less stressful dental experience.

You may feel understandably apprehensive about your kids receiving dental sedation, even if you commonly receive sedation during your own dental appointments. The more you understand about pediatric dental sedation, the more easily you can approach the subject calmly and positively. Here are some key facts to consider if your child needs some degree of sedation during dentistry.

Kids Can Benefit From Dental Sedation

Sedation differs from anesthesia in that it primarily seeks to keep patients calm instead of numbing their pain, although light sedation can enhance the numbing effect produced by a local anesthetic. People of all ages may experience fear during dental visits, with symptoms ranging from extreme agitation to tingling sensations, shaking, and sweating. Sedation can help to reduce these reactions.

Children may experience dental phobia, not necessarily because of an unpleasant previous dental experience, but simply because they have little experience in the dentist’s chair. They may find the sounds, smells, and dental instruments intimidating or frightening, or they may simply dread the possibility of pain. Even after pre-appointment education and reassurance, they may need dental sedation.

Dental sedation can also reduce gagging problems during a pediatric dental procedure. Children who tend to gag or choke easily may have difficulty getting through an exam, cleaning, or treatment without either panicking or vomiting. The same sedative drugs that promote calmness and relaxation also slow certain reflexes, including the gag reflex.

Kids May Need Different Levels of Sedation

Pediatric dentists can administer varying levels of sedation. In most cases, children need only the lightest form of dental sedation. This sedation involves the use of nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. The gas (mixed with oxygen) flows through a face mask, producing mild relaxation while leaving the child still able to communicate freely with the dentist.

Longer or more complex dental procedures may call for deeper sedation. Oral drugs can produce a moderate level of sedation that makes the patient feel groggy without causing loss of consciousness. Children can still follow the dentist’s instructions under moderate sedation, even if they have no memory of the procedure afterward.

The deepest level of dental sedation comes from drugs delivered through an intravenous drip. Children who receive this form of sedation will sleep through the procedure.

Kids Receive Careful Supervision and Safeguards

If you worry about the safety of dental sedation for children, rest assured that the technique involves careful supervision and attention to detail. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now requires that an anesthesiologist, nurse anesthetist, or additional dental specialist (such as an oral surgeon) must attend, observe, and stand by to offer assistance in any procedure that involves deep sedation.

During the dental procedure, the attending dental professionals take constant measurements of the patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, blood oxygen levels, and body temperature. This scrutiny allows them to adjust the sedation level as needed to protect the patient’s health.

Kids May Need to Prepare for Sedation

Proper preparation can help your child enjoy the safest, most effective sedation dentistry experience possible. Make sure that the dental office has the latest information on your child’s general health, including the use of any medications that might interact with sedative drugs. If you child develops an unrelated medical issue before the scheduled dental procedure, you may need to reschedule.

You’ll want to restrict your child’s food and drink intake before receiving dental sedation, to minimize any risk of regurgitation during the procedure. Withhold clear fluids at least two hours before the procedure. Stop giving your child heavier fluids or light meals six hours before the dental procedure and give heavier meals at least eight hours to digest.

Kids Choice Dental knows how to administer pediatric dental sedation in a safe, effective manner. Contact us to schedule an appointment at any of our offices.

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