Sedation Dentistry: Is It a Risk to My Child?

Sedation Dentistry: Is It a Risk to My Child?

Your imagination can probably conjure up all sorts of horrible scenarios about your child being sedated at the dentist’s office. But with a better understanding of what sedation dentistry entails and all the safeguards in place to keep it safe, you can confidently shrug off your anxieties about your child being sedated and you can pass on what you’ve learned to your child to minimize their anxiety as well.

While sedation dentistry isn’t completely risk-free, most things are that way, you’ll find that it's way less risky than everyday activities your family already engages in. So that leaves the question: are the minor risks worth the reward of minimizing your child’s dental anxiety and helping them feel comfortable at the dentist office from an early age?

The short answer is yes. Here’s the long answer.

Types of Sedation

Used nearly interchangeable in a lot of situations, sedation and anesthesia are different ends of the same thing. There are several classifications of sedation and anesthesia, each defined by the level of pain and consciousness they suppress. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Light Sedation: At this level, the patient is given just enough of a sedative to suppress anxiety. The person’s consciousness is only mildly suppressed, if at all, and there may be minor pain relief at this stage – though a local anesthetic would be likely used if the procedure involved anything more than mild discomfort.
  • Moderate Sedation: This level of sedation involves the suppression of consciousness, though the patient will likely remain awake and alert to a degree. At this moderate level, sedated patients typically still respond to verbal and physical prompts. However, response times may be slowed.
  • Deep Sedation: Patients undergoing deep sedation commonly fall asleep and are completely unaware of their surroundings, yet some people remain awake while experiencing this level of sedation or they wake up as the sedative begins to wear off. The patient may be roused by physical prompts when undergoing deep sedation, just like you’d wake any sleeping person.
  • Local Anesthesia: The effects of the anesthetic may include some mild sedative properties, but the primary objective of this level of anesthesia is to suppress or inhibit pain in the area of your body where you’ll be receiving treatment. A sedative might be used in conjunction with local anesthesia if the patient has a high level of anxiety going into the procedure.
  • General Anesthesia: At this level of anesthesia, the patient falls asleep fully and is unaware of their surroundings. Verbal or physical prompts won’t wake the sleeping patient. The anesthesiologist and staff will closely monitor the patient until the anesthesia begins to wear off and the person is again able to be awakened.

Depending on the procedure your child needs, not all of the above options may be available to them. As with any patient scheduled for sedation or anesthesia, your dental staff will make sure your child is healthy enough to safely ingest the medications.

Your dentist, anesthesiologist and possibly even your child’s primary care physician will confer to determine if what sedation and anesthesia options are appropriate for your child.

Most healthy children will have no health concerns related to any level of anesthesia or sedation. Still, there are a few things you’ll want to do to make sure your child is best prepared for sedation – before and after the medication is administered.

Things to Help You Prepare Your Child

Depending on the level of sedation your child undergoes, they could fall asleep and wake up drowsy with little or no recollection of part, or even all, of the events that occurred while they were sedated. It can be disorientating and a bit scary for the child if you don’t prepare them for the experience.

Here are some ways you can shine some light on the experience and make a bunch of unknowns something your child understands and doesn’t fear:

  • Let your dental staff know of any changes in your child’s health before the appointment. Fever, breathing problems, congestion and many other common health issues can rule out sedation as an option, even at the last minute.
  • Schedule a meeting with your child and their dentist, especially if they haven’t been into the dentist’s office in a while. This visit will help your child understand what will be done, how they’ll feel immediately after the procedure and how long they can expect that feeling to last.
  • Have a game plan for your child after the procedure. Think of ways you can comfort your child, should they be a little confused after sedation.

Here are the fasting guidelines you’ll need to follow to make sure your child is physically prepared to undergo sedation:
  • Fast a minimum of two hours ahead of the appointment for clear, pulp-free liquids including teas, juices and water
  • Fast at least four hours for breast milk
  • Fast at least six hours for baby formula and light, low- or fat-free meals
  • Fast at least eight hours for fatty foods, especially meats

Top Takeaways

Sedation options are just that: options. They are options that can help make your child comfortable during treatments that range from the routine to lengthy. Often times, parents worry that they’re children won’t be able to sit through a long procedure either due to restlessness, discomfort, short attention-spans or anxieties. Yes, sometimes their children surprise them.

Jamie Jones, MS, a member of Loma Linda University Children’s Hospital’s Division of Pediatric Radiology often sees young children take pride in forgoing sedation. He commonly has patients scheduled to undergo general anesthesia for an MRI and he often finds that they don’t need to be put under, he said.

“On the day of their appointment, if I assess they could complete the MRI without sedation, I will try to familiarize the patient with the procedure by utilizing pictures and sounds,” Jones said. “When the patients complete the MRI successfully without sedation, they often say things like ‘I did it!’ or tell their parents ‘I was able to stay still!’”

Consult with a Dentist Offering Sedation Services

Visiting a dentist’s office is one of the most effective ways to get your child comfortable with professional dental care. It will go a long way in helping you feel even better out sedation dentistry.

Contact us to schedule a consultation with a local dentist about the sedation options available to your child and the rest of your family.

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