Many children are terrified of visiting the dentist that they are willing to endure the agony of dental pain than going to the dental office. This is called dental anxiety and it is incredibly common among aged-school children where around 20% of them are suffering from this issue.

Unfortunately, treating a fearful child can be quite challenging, as it can negatively affect the success of dental procedures delivered to them, thus prevent them from receiving optimal dental care. 

What Is Dental Sedation?

This is a common procedure that involves the usage of sedative drugs to help relax the child while having dental procedures. A child will be less aware of their surroundings yet they will not be fully asleep, so the dentist can comfortably deliver their treatment. 

However, the parent needs to be fully aware that receiving such medication will only aid in calming the child, it will not in any way manage the child’s pain. Therefore, receiving an anesthetic injection (shot) in the mouth is still required to numb the working area. 

Is Dental Sedation Safe for Children?

First and foremost the dentist and their assistant should be certified and highly trained in administrating such medication. Additionally, the dental clinic should be fully equipped with the appropriate devices needed to monitor your child’s vital signs.

Nitrous oxide gas is usually the method of choice when sedating a child, this gas is known to be safe and has no series side effects as it wears is off rather quickly from the body. The short-term effects include having slow reflexes, feeling drowsiness and fatigued for the rest of the day. Although uncommonly if a child over inhales the gas, vomiting, nausea and sweating would be expected, again this is not a dangerous situation as these symptoms will disappear once the sedative wears off. 

What Types of Sedation Are Used in Dentistry?

This depends on the level of sedation required.

Nitrous oxide (Laughing Gas)

This gives the mildest form of sedation and it is the preferred method of choice for pediatric patients. The gas will be delivered via a face mask, the child will breath both the nitrous oxide and oxygen, the effect of the gas will start after five minutes and you will notice your child becoming more relaxed and in a happy state in general. After the dentist is done with their work, the mask is removed and the sedative effect will wear off quickly.

kids sedation

Oral sedation

A pill is taken once the child arrives at the dental office. It will take around 20 minutes for the medication to start working. Oral sedation delivers a stronger sedation effect on the child. Therefore, they might be still awake but they would be very drowsy and unable to speak properly. After the effect of the medication wears off, the child would still feel sleepy for the rest of the day and may not recall their visit to the dental office.

IV Sedation

The sedative medication is introduced to the child’s body via a needle inserted in the child’s arm or hand. Then the child would go into a deep sleep while the dentist performs their procedures. Unlike nitrous oxide and oral sedation, vital signs such as breathing and heart rate should be monitored by specialized personal.

General anesthesia

This is a state of deep sedation where the child will be fully unconscious and it is performed by anesthesiologists. This approach is used in case of multiple and prolonged dental procedures as well as surgical treatments. Firstly place a face mask and then take IV medication. Since breathing devices and close monitoring of vital signs are crucial, it is usually carried out in a hospital setting. After the completion of the procedures, it will take the child time to fully regain consciousness.

Prepare Before Going Into Dental Sedation

On the day of the procedure, the dentist may ask that the child to be fasting for a couple of hours before sedation. It is very crucial to let the dentist aware of the full medical history of your child. As a parent or the legal guardian of the child, you will be asked to sign a consent form. 

The staff will firstly monitor the child’s vital signs then start administrating the medication, you will have the choice to either stay in the examination room or to sit in the waiting area until the dentist is done.

What You Can Expect After Sedation

After the completion of the dental procedures, the sedative effect of the medication will start to wear off, the recovery time varies from child to child and the type of sedation they had. 

It is important to remember that when your child comes out from sedation, they might be very drowsy, fussy, and confused. Some children will start to laugh or cry. All of these is completely normal until the sedative effect wears away.

The following are some home-care instructions for the parent to follow:

  1. The child should take the rest of the day off from school to rest.
  2. It is normal that the child’s mouth feels sore due to the dental work they had done.
  3. They should eat soft food for the restof the day.
  4. If your little one experiencesfever or severe vomiting, you need to contact the dentist immediately. 


--- By Dr. Aisha I A Member of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh since 2019. She graduated from Tripoli University in 2016. She works as a general practitioner with special interest in Implantology.

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