SEDATION DENTISTRY FOR KIDS: OKAY, OR NOT OKAY?

Overheard at the supermarket checkout line: “It was fine, honey. The dentist knocked her out with gas and she didn’t feel a thing. Got salmon for dinner.” It’s not okay to eavesdrop, but people with cell phones make it impossible not to. I glanced back at the woman behind me. She had a baby in the cart and a pre-teen daughter passing groceries onto the belt.  The dentist knocked her out. Wait, is it okay to knock a kid out for dental treatment? It’s obviously something that’s done, routinely, but does that mean it’s okay? After all, the list of things people routinely do that turn out to be not-okay is long. I’ve never been knocked out by a dentist. Neither has my child.  But Cell Phone Mom’s remarks stuck with me. Was this something my own child would face? I was about to learn all about sedation dentistry.

ASK THE PEDIATRIC DENTIST

As always when burdened by concerns involving dentistry, I reached out to my go-to pediatric dentist. Dr. Popper of Boca’s Junior Smiles chuckled when I asked him, point blank, if he planned to knock my little girl out someday.

“Whoa!”, he protested. “We don’t knock kids out! Where’s this coming from?” I reluctantly revealed my source. Cell Phone Mom at Publix.

Dr. Popper smiled and rolled his eyes. “Ah-ha, not Dr. Google.” I pointed out that the Junior Smiles website mentions laughing gas. I meant to hold his feet to the fire. What, I wanted to know, was the need for anesthesia when the kid’s mouth was already numbed?

Dr. Popper nodded. “Perfectly good question.”, he agreed. He then brought me up to speed quickly and clearly.  “First of all”, he observed, “What we do at Junior Smiles with nitrous oxide gas is not, repeat not, anesthesia. It’s sedation. Laughing gas, in fact, isn’t a very effective pain killer. What it does, the way we use it, is deeply relax the child.  Everything seems like a wonderful, magical dream, as one of the kids told me. A lot of them, to be sure,  don’t seem to remember the experience.”

SEDATION DENTISTRY FOR KIDS?

Anesthesia is what “knocks out” a patient. General anesthesia is for serious procedures like oral surgery. Sedation is not anesthesia. Dr. Popper went on to explain that after getting sedation going with a blended stream of laughing gas and oxygen he then injects the gum-numbing medication as usual. Sedation, he reminded me, isn’t an effective painkiller.

“Sedation dentistry isn’t really about pain”, he continued. “It’s about anxiety”.  In reality, the local numbing agents that dentists use today make most procedures painless. Some kids, though, just can’t get comfortable in the dentist’s chair.  It takes longer, of course,  to complete a procedure properly with a squirmy child. Not only that, it bodes ill for the future. An unpleasant experience at the dentist’s teaches a kid, well, that dentist visits are horror shows.

But what about the risks? That’s certainly what was uppermost in my mind. Sedation. Sounds all druggy!

SEDATION DENTISTRY FOR KIDS!

The truth set me free. Nitrous oxide is not toxic. It’s flushed out by the body very quickly. The only risks it poses are from displacing oxygen in the breathing mixture, and accidents when trying to be active during use.  Neither of these applies to sedation dentistry for kids. Firstly, the child is in the chair. Secondly, the oxygen-nitrous oxide blend is carefully monitored. In any case, the child’s mouth is (obviously!) open, so plenty of air is available. When the procedure’s complete, the dentist runs 100% oxygen for a few minutes. This flushes out the laughing gas from the child’s body. Pediatric dentists go through intensive training in gas administration after dental school. The safety record for nitrous oxide sedation dentistry is essentially perfect.

So there we have it. My child doesn’t appear to be a candidate for sedation dentistry. She ‘s totally at home with her pediatric dentist. However, it’s great to know that sedation dentistry for kids is very much okay.

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