There are different ways to ease a child's potential nervousness with dental visits, like starting those visits around their first birthday or seeing a pediatric dentist who specializes in children. But even doing those things won't guarantee your child won't develop some form of dental anxiety, which could complicate their dental care.
To help make appointments easier for anxious children, many dentists use conscious sedation as a means of helping them relax. With this technique, the dentist administers a mild sedative to the child to take the edge off their nervousness, while allowing them to remain awake during treatment.
Sedation isn't anesthesia, the means we use to stop pain during treatment (although sedation may be used with anesthesia). Rather, sedation reduces emotional fear and anxiety. And unlike general anesthesia, a sedated child can still breathe without assistance and, depending on the depth of the sedation, respond to physical and verbal stimuli.
In most cases, children are administered sedation medications by mouth, usually as a syrup, although on occasion it might be delivered intravenously with an IV. The dose is usually given some time before their treatment session after the dentist has evaluated them. Dentists mostly use mild sedatives like Midazolam or Hydroxyzine with very little risk of side effects for children.
During the procedure, a designated staff member continually monitors the child's vital signs. Besides heart rate, pulse and respirations, they may also check the child's exhaled carbon dioxide levels to ensure they're breathing normally.
After the treatment session is over, staff will continue to monitor the child until their vital signs return to pre-sedation levels. If the child is of driving age, they'll need someone to drive them home. Children who've been sedated should remain home for the rest of the day, but they can usually return to school the next day depending on what kind of dental work they've undergone.
Dentists follow strict protocols for pediatric sedation adopted by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Dental Society, and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry. In addition, many states have also established processes for administering sedation therapy. It's a safe and effective method to ease a child's anxiety over their dental visit.
If you would like more information on making dental visits easier for kids, please contact us or schedule an appointment for a consultation. You can also learn more about this topic by reading the Dear Doctor magazine article “Sedation Dentistry For Kids.”