Some children can get anxious or even fearful of certain dental procedures, and going to the dentist can be stressful for them. However, many dental offices offer various levels of sedation dentistry for children, which can make the entire experience more comfortable for your child. One of the most common, safest, and reliable options of sedation in pediatric dentistry is the administration of nitrous oxide, also called laughing gas. For kids, this option is practical and has very few side effects. Are other forms of sedation dentistry safe for toddlers and children? Read on to find out more about your options.
Types of Sedation
Pediatric dental professionals use several types of sedation.
- General anesthesia: This type of sedation generally takes place under the care of a professionally trained anesthesiologist, separate from the dentist performing the procedure. The child will be completely asleep the entire time, and will feel no pain. Intubation with a breathing tube and placement of an IV occur with general anesthesia.
- Deep sedation with IV: Intravenous (IV) medications help a child sleep through the procedure. An anesthesiologist or other trained professional must be present to monitor vitals while the dentist works. The child will be asleep, but still may be able to move around a little or make noises. A breathing tube is usually used with deep IV sedation.
- Mild to moderate sedation: The dentist may use oral medications to help a child relax, or make them a little sleepy. The child generally remains awake, or wakes easily if they do fall asleep. With this type of sedation, the child is responsive and able to move and respond. Usually, an anesthesiologist does not need to be present, as the dentist can administer these medications. IVs and breathing tubes are not used with mild and moderate oral sedation.
- Nitrous oxide: This gas, mixed with oxygen for the child to breathe in, creates a mild sedative effect. The nitrous oxide relaxes the child without putting them to sleep. The child may feel a little lightheaded, tingly or experience a floating sensation. The nitrous oxide is also called “laughing gas” due to the relaxed, giggly feeling many people get from the gas, and is the least invasive type of sedation used by dentists. It is easily titrated or adjusted, depending on how a child responds to the gas. Additionally, it wears off within minutes after turned off and leaves no residual effects.
Your dentist can discuss these options with you and review the details of the procedure, along with your child’s health history, so you can make informed choices together regarding pediatric dental sedation safety for your children.
Side Effects of Nitrous Oxide in Children’s Dentistry
Nitrous oxide is very gentle and safe. However, as with any drug, some child sedation dentistry side effects are possible.
- Short-term side effects: Most side effects of nitrous oxide are uncommon and occur from inhaling too much of the gas or with frequent fluctuations. This excess can result in nausea and vomiting, sweating, shivering and feelings of fatigue or dizziness. Side effects are generally mild and go away quickly as the sedative wears off.
- Long-term side effects: Because the gas wears off quickly, there are generally no long-term side effects. If your child experiences any unusual or longer-lasting issues, contact your doctor or dentist right away.
- Side effects in toddlers and children: The short-term side effects are very similar for children and may include nausea and vomiting.
The main takeaway here is that nitrous oxide is gentle and safe for adults and children. Any side effects experienced are generally mild, reversible and go away quickly as the gas wears off. Any long-term or more severe effects usually only result from misuse or overuse of the gas.
Preparing Your Child for Nitrous Oxide
Some children may be nervous about going to the dentist, but gently sedating your child for dentistry with nitrous oxide can be an excellent option to ease their nerves. If your dentist’s office will be using nitrous oxide sedation for your child’s procedure, the dentist or hygienist will give your child a special breathing mask to inhale the gas. Generally, they will administer the gas a few minutes before beginning any other component of the procedure, and will continue until they have completed treatment. Dental professionals conduct routine, ongoing safety checks on vital signs to ensure the health and safety of your child.
Your child should feel more calm and relaxed during the procedure, but will not go into a deep sleep, as with other types of sedation. Once the nitrous oxide is turned off, your child will breathe 100% pure oxygen to help flush any residual nitrous oxide out of their lungs.
You’ll be able to be in the room while your child is receiving the nitrous oxide, and often for the whole dental procedure, so you can reassure them. It may be helpful to discuss what to expect with your child before you go in for the appointment. Use honesty and clear language to tell them exactly what will happen and why, and encourage them not to be afraid. This preparation can help quell some of your child’s fears.
Fasting before the procedure is not necessary for nitrous oxide sedation, like it is with other types of sedation. A light meal beforehand is allowed. No other specific preparation at home is necessary.
Is Dental Sedation Safe for My Child?
The bottom line is that dental sedation, especially with nitrous oxide, is incredibly safe, even for children. Most dentists offer nitrous oxide as a treatment option for gentle sedation. It can help calm and relax your child, making their dental procedure go much more smoothly. Both you and your child will have less stress throughout their dental work.
As each child is different, your dentist will want to review your child’s health history and any other concerns before the procedure. And although dental sedation is very safe, many considerations go into choosing the options for each treatment. Consult with your pediatric dentist to determine the ideal choices for your child.
Other forms of sedation– oral conscious sedation, IV sedation, or general anesthesia have a higher risk of complication and side effects compared to sedation with laughing gas alone. It is important for any parent to make sure they report a true and honest health history to your child’s dentist, as certain patients may not be good candidates for the above listed types of sedation. Additionally, your child’d dentist needs to be properly trained and certified to provide nitrous oxide or sedation. Each state requires that dentists hold a special certificate or permit enabling them to perform sedation procedures.
For the best pediatric dentistry in Portland, come to Sprout Pediatric Dentistry & Orthodontics. We specialize in children’s dentistry and orthodontics to help guide your child through all stages of their oral health journey. Contact us for an appointment today to get started. We pride ourselves not only on our knowledge of children’s needs, but also on our friendly, approachable staff. We have a variety of treatment options and work with you to determine the safest and most comfortable dental procedures for your child.
Dr. Dana grew up in Portland, and went to Temple University in Philadelphia, PA for dental school. She then moved to Anchorage, AK for her residency in Pediatric Dentistry. Dr. Dana takes a holistic approach to pediatric dentistry & is able to use her own parenting experience to sympathize and understand each family’s unique dynamic.