Sedation in pediatric dentistry is used in order to help a child feel calm and relaxed during pediatric dental treatment. Conscious sedation, which is the most commonly used form of sedation used in pediatric dentistry, can help in dental procedures from the most basic teeth cleaning and routine treatments, to complex oral surgeries. Sedation dentistry helps alleviate children’s anxieties, pain from sensitive teeth, and difficulties in sitting still for prolonged periods during more extensive procedures. Pediatric patients receiving sedation remain generally awake, but relaxed during their dental treatment.

When is sedation used in pediatric dentistry?

Sedation in pediatric dentistry can be used for several purposes.

  • In some cases, very young children may be unable keep still for the length of time necessary for completing a high-precision dental procedure safely. In such cases, sedation helps make the dental visit less stressful children, and it greatly reduces risk of injury during the procedure.
  • In other cases, children may have difficulty managing their anxiety during dental treatment. Sedation helps them cope, relax, and feel much more comfortable and happy about having the necessary treatment.
  • Sedation is also especially helpful to children who have special needs. It prevents spontaneous body movements, and it helps them with the cooperative behavior needed to allow the dentist to perform the dental procedure without risking the child’s safety.

What types of sedation are used for children?

The pediatric dentist will determine the type sedation to recommend, based on your child’s medical history, the duration of the dental procedure, and your child’s level of comfort. Conscious sedation allows children to communicate, cooperate, and follow instructions throughout the dental procedure. Below are descriptions of the methods of conscious sedation most commonly used in pediatric dentistry.

Nitrous Oxide – (laughing gas) may be recommended for children showing signs of anxiety or nervousness. Nitrous oxide is administered through a mask placed over the nose. Nitrous oxide is combined with oxygen. It relaxes children very quickly, and can cause very happy and euphoric feelings. At the end of the procedure, the dentist will switch to just oxygen for a few minutes, to eliminate any nitrous oxide from the child’s body.

Side Effects: Nitrous oxide may cause nausea, though it rarely occurs. Most pediatric dentists recommend that children have only minimal amounts of food before the dental appointment, as a safety precaution in the unlikely event of vomiting.

Oral Sedation – Children who are very anxious, or who have difficulty cooperating, or who are unable to control body movements during longer procedures, may be appropriate candidates for oral sedatives. Oral sedatives may be in tablet, pill, or liquid form, and typically take around 20 minutes or so to take effect. Oral sedation makes a child feel relaxed and calm, and possibly sleepy.

Parents should prepare the child prior to the dental appointment, if an oral sedative will be used. Limit food and fluid consumption before the appointment. Dress your child in comfortable clothing. Prepare to stay with your child during the several hours following the appointment.

Side Effects: Oral sedatives rarely cause side effects, but nausea is among the most common.

Less frequently used methods — Less common means of sedation used in pediatric dentistry include suppositories and nasal sprays containing sedatives.

Is general anesthesia used in pediatric dentistry?

General anesthetic puts children in a deep sleep, and it involves more extensive preparation and recovery. It is usually used only for dental surgery performed in a hospital. The sedative is intravenously (IV) administered.

Before Sedation

Children are able to tolerate sedation best when parents clearly understand what to expect and how to prepare the child.

  • For safety, it is important to restrict food and drink before sedation. If nausea occurs, stomach contents can be vomited and inhaled into a child’s lungs.
  • Dressing your child in loose-fitting clothing helps dental assistants quickly attach monitors without difficulties that can annoy children or affect mood.
  • Provide your child’s full medical history. And, tell the dentist if your child is taking any prescription medications, or over-the-counter medication, or natural supplements.

During Sedation

For pediatric dentists, ensuring patients’ safety during sedation is the main priority. The patient’s level of blood oxygen, blood pressure, heart rate and temperature are very closely monitored during sedation.

After Sedation

Children may be confused, or feel nauseous, or irritable after sedation. It is recommended that two adults accompany a child or teenager on the trip home. This is so that one person can drive while the other is available to attend to the child. Other temporary after-effects of sedation can include less physical coordination, sleepiness, and dizziness. After having sedation, children should not return to school or daycare on the same day. A child should eat only soft foods during the first several hours after sedation. If vomiting, severe pain, severe bleeding or fever occurs, parents should contact the dentist immediately.

What can parents do to make children’s dental visits easier?

Parents can provide a calming and encouraging influence that may help their children feel more relaxed during the dental office visit. Try bringing a favorite toy or another comfort item for your child to hold. Gently talking to your child, holding his or her hand, or softly singing a favorite song may also be comforting. It is important to avoid bringing other children to the dental appointment, so that parents can fully focus on attending to the child receiving treatment.

Nia Pediatrics Dentistry, Atlanta GA

Dr. Nia provides pediatric dental services and pediatric orthodontics for children and teens, at two Atlanta area office locations. Dr. Nia and her excellent dental treatment team are focused on creating a dental office experience for children that helps them feel relaxed and happy during their dental office visits. She helps parents and children to maintain the most effective preventive care possible, and to choose the most practical solutions to children’s dental health issues.

For More Information

For more information about sedation techniques for pediatric dentistry, or to make an appointment for your child to have a dental examination, contact Nia Pediatric Dentistry to receive help from one of our friendly, knowledgeable dental office professionals.