Sedation/General Anesthesia

What is Sedation?

Pediatric dentists use oral sedation in order to reduce a child’s anxiety and/or discomfort during dental visits. The most common sedation used puts children at ease without rendering them unconscious so that they can still communicate, follow instructions, and cooperate during the entire procedure. Oral sedation is typically used for very young children who are unable keep still for long enough for the pediatric dentist to perform procedures safely, and is particularly useful for children with special needs in order to prevent spontaneous movement.
The pediatric dentist will consider several sedation options available, as they all have different benefits. Depending on the child’s medical history, the duration of the procedure and how comfortable the child is will determine which sedation type the dentist recommends. Nitrous oxide, oral sedation, and intravenous sedation are the major types of sedation dentists provide.

Most common types of sedation:

Nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas”, is usually given to children who are overly anxious and need help to cope. Nitrous oxide relaxes children very quickly, produces a happy state, is easy to deliver via a mask and wears off quickly will little effect. Nitrous oxide is always combined with oxygen so that the child can comfortably breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. When the procedure is over, the child will breathe pure oxygen for a while to clear out any remaining nitrous oxide. The most common known effect is nausea. For that reason, we recommend minimal food intake prior to the appointment.

Oral sedation is usually given to children that are anxious or unable to control their body for long periods of time. It is a medicine taken by mouth or through the nose when the patient arrives for his/her appointment. It typically takes about 20 minutes to work and may make the child feel drowsy. It doesn’t put patients to sleep, but rather makes the patient feel more calm and relaxed. Nausea is the most common side effect if any.

Oral sedation can be extremely helpful in that it makes dental visits less stressful for both children and adults, greatly reduces the risk of injury and helps them feel happier and more cooperative during the entire procedure.

Intravenous sedation is delivered through a needle inserted into the patient’s vein (typically back of hand), and usually after the child has been give nitrous oxide, especially if afraid of needles. If necessary, a tube may be inserted into the patient’s throat to aid breathing.

What about general anesthetic?

General anesthesia on the other hand renders a child unconscious. It is used in instances where the procedure couldn’t be performed safely due to a lengthy treatment time or the child’s inability to cooperate and/or follow instructions.