Children can often be apprehensive about dental treatment, but keeping oral health in good condition is important, especially at a young age. In certain situations, your dentist might recommend using a type of sedation during your child’s treatment. This can be a worrying concept, but the right information will help to put your mind at rest.
Types of Sedation
There are several levels of sedation your dentist may choose to use depending on your child and the procedure to be undertaken.
Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, is the lowest level of sedation. It is blended with oxygen and administered through a small breathing mask. It is non-invasive, and once your child stops breathing nitrous oxide then the drug will quickly leave their system, and they will return to normal. Nitrous oxide won’t put your child to sleep, but it will help them to relax.
Mild sedation is usually induced using orally administered drugs. Your child will remain awake and usually be able to respond normally to verbal communication, but their movement and coordination may be affected. Respiratory and cardiovascular reflexes and functions are not affected at all, so there is no need for any additional monitoring equipment or oxygen.
Moderate sedation will make your child drowsy, and although they will usually respond to verbal communication they may not be able to speak coherently. They are likely to remain a little sleepy after the procedure, and most children cannot remember all or any of the procedure. This type of sedation can be reversed easily and breathing and cardiovascular function are generally unaffected.
Deep sedation is induced using intravenous drugs and will mean that your child is fully asleep. They may move a little and make sounds in response to repeated stimulation or any pain, but they will be in a deep sleep. Recovery from this type of sedation takes a little longer, and it is highly unlikely that your child will remember anything that happened. Sometimes respiratory or cardiovascular function can be impaired using these types of drugs, so there will be an extra qualified person present to monitor your child throughout the procedure.
The deepest option is a general anaesthetic, also induced using intravenous drugs. During a general anaesthetic, your child will be completely asleep and unable to respond to any stimulation, including pain. Your child will not remember any of the procedure, and should remain drowsy for some time afterwards. During this type of sedation, your child would be monitored by an anaesthetist who is trained in taking care of people under general anaesthetic. Recovery time is a little longer after a general anaesthetic than the other sedation types, and your child may need assistance with breathing during the procedure.
When Is Sedation Required?
There are a few reasons why sedation might be necessary for your child during a dental procedure. First of all, the procedure may be painful, so sedation would be appropriate to avoid unnecessary discomfort. Depending on the type and length of the procedure required, any of the above types of sedation might be appropriate.
If your child is at all anxious about visiting the dentist, it is important to make their experience as smooth as possible to avoid worsening the problem. The level of sedation required will depend on the level of anxiety and the procedure. For mild anxiety, nitrous oxide or mild sedation would help your child relax. If your child is very young, then a higher level might be appropriate to prevent them from moving during the procedure. In more extreme cases of anxiety or phobia, higher sedation levels may be required.
Sedation is sometimes required for children with behavioural disorders or other special needs. It can be difficult, or impossible, to explain to these children why dental care is required. The whole experience can therefore be very frightening for them, so an appropriate level of sedation may be used to help them remain calm and still for the procedure.
Concerns and Contraindications
Sedation has been used in dentistry for a long time, and the drugs and methods used are constantly reviewed. Anyone recommending or administering sedation is specially trained to do so safely, and during deep sedation and general anaesthetic your child is monitored by a trained professional in the room solely for that purpose.
Sometimes sedation can result in side effects such as nausea, vomiting, prolonged drowsiness, and imbalance. These effects usually wear off by themselves. After a deep sedation or general anaesthetic your child should be closely supervised to prevent falling, choking if they vomit, or airway obstruction.
Sedation of children for dental procedures is a common and safe practice. It may be worrying when your dentist first suggests it, but it is important not to increase your child’s anxiety so that they can maintain excellent dental care throughout their lives.