What is the Most Common Sedative Used For Pediatric Dentistry?

Sedation is used to relax patients, particularly if they have high levels of anxiety when visiting the dentist. The most common methods of sedation in children are all conscious sedatives. 

These include nitrous oxide (laughing gas), oral conscious sedation via a pill, and mild to moderate sedation with IV. Less common sedation methods are more intensive and effective, sometimes rendering the child unconscious.

These include deep IV sedation and general anesthesia. General anesthesia is typically only performed in a hospital setting by a certified anesthesiologist and is reserved for more serious treatments like oral surgery.

What is Sedation Used For?

Sedation is most commonly used to reduce heightened levels of anxiety or relax patients with dental or needle phobias. However, there are many other reasons for and benefits of dental sedation, such as:

  • Sensitive gag reflex
  • Low pain tolerance
  • Restlessness or inability to sit still for long periods
  • Being able to perform the procedure on uncooperative young children
  • The dental procedure can be performed more efficiently and faster

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is the single most common method of sedation in pediatric dentistry. It is administered through a nasal mask, where the patient will inhale the nitrous oxide and oxygen and instantly begin to feel the relaxation effects.

Nitrous oxide is a form of conscious sedation, so your child will be fully conscious and aware of everything that is going on around them. However, they may feel sleepy and not remember anything from their dental treatment afterward. This may be preferable if dental appointments are traumatic for the child.

Benefits of Nitrous Oxide

Laughing gas is so common because it is the mildest sedative available, is painless, has a quick onset, and fades within minutes after the procedure is over. Your child will be able to breathe comfortably because there is a steady supply of oxygen that is also administered through the nasal mask. 

Some of the effects of nitrous oxide on children include a feeling of giddiness and euphoria. It is particularly effective in children with mild anxiety and the precise concentration of gases can be altered from person to person. 

Out of all of the possible sedatives, nitrous oxide is considered the safest to administer. Your child will feel like they are in a dream-like state, but they can still respond to questions.

Preparation and Aftercare

Nitrous oxide has a quick onset, so your child will feel the effects of laughing gas almost immediately upon inhaling it. This makes dental treatments easier, more efficient, and faster because you don’t have to wait as long for the sedative to kick in. If the patient is relaxed and cooperative, the treatment goes smoother for both the child and the dentist. 

Once the treatment is done, the mask will deliver a steady flow of pure oxygen, which ensures that all remnants of nitrous oxide have left the body. Within 5 minutes, your child will feel back to normal but may experience some nausea.

Before the dental treatment: There is very little preparation involved with nitrous oxide. However, because there is a small risk that your child can experience nauseousness, it is recommended that children fast for 2 hours before having laughing gas administered. 

It is okay to eat something light if necessary, but it is ideal to refrain from eating completely in the 2 hours leading up to the sedative to reduce nausea and the risk of vomiting.

After the dental treatment: In the case that your child does experience nauseousness post dental treatment, drinking water can help. If your child won’t drink water, then they should be given clear liquids. Sedatives are often combined with a local anesthetic, so make sure that your child does not bite their lip if they are still numb in the next few hours following the dental treatment.

Understanding Your Sedation Options

While there are many different dental sedative options, the most common sedative in pediatric dentistry is nitrous oxide. This is due to its extremely safe, painless, and effective administration. 

The quick onset of effects and its ability to wear off quickly after flowing oxygen through the mask reduces waiting time and requires little preparation or aftercare. At Pediatric Dental World, we offer a range of sedatives, including laughing gas, oral conscious sedation, and IV sedation.

Our amazing dental team is composed of highly experienced dentists. Dr. Jason Clapp, Dr. Jessica Bell, Dr. Jennifer Lee, and Dr. Natalie Smith are certified to administer these sedatives should your child need them. Schedule an appointment with us today!

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