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Why Your Pediatric Dentist May Choose General Anesthesia to Care for Your Child

Pediatric dentistry patient playing in field

Every parent wants a painless, productive, and informative experience for their child at the dentist. General anesthesia is a gentle, but effective tool to achieve that by putting a child completely to sleep.

Here, we’ll talk about the types of anesthesia used in pediatric dentistry, the qualities of general anesthesia, and how your pediatric dentist can determine the best option for your child. If you live in the greater Reno, Nevada area, you can even reach out to us to schedule an appointment for your child.

What is General Anesthesia?

General anesthesia is a type of sedation that affects the entire body to create a loss of consciousness. In dentistry, it’s typically medicine inhaled through a breathing mask. Under general anesthesia, your child will be totally asleep and unaware of what is going on, and they will have no memory of the procedure. Essentially, general anesthesia provides a pain-free and event-free environment for your child.

Pediatric dentists that use general anesthesia have to be specially trained and certified under strict conditions. Furthermore, a dental office that offers this service has to be specially equipped and staffed to ensure that your child gets the absolute best care.

Most Common Alternatives

Other types of sedation can deeply relax your child without putting them entirely to sleep. Here are a few examples.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is the most widely recognized mild sedative in the practice of dentistry. It is also considered the least invasive. Nitrous oxide does not put you to sleep. It reduces pain and puts you into a relaxed and agreeable state. It is administered through a mask and inhaled along with ambient air.

Moderate Sedation

In moderate sedation, medications are administered orally that can induce a carefree, forgetful, and unbothered state. It is often called “twilight sleep” because, while you are still conscious, there is a short-term loss of memory and general insensitivity to pain without actual loss of consciousness.

When Would A Pediatric Dentist Use General Anesthesia?

Your pediatric dentist may suggest using general anesthesia under these conditions.

  • Your child is very young and cannot cooperate with the clinician or staff during the visit.
  • There is an extensive level of treatment that need to be performed in the clinic that surpasses the cooperative threshold of a child.
  • A child is willfully uncooperative or has a phobia of the conditions he or she will be in.
  • Treatment was attempted in a prior visit and was unsuccessful under those sedation and/or behavioral interventions.

Kid smile

What About Special Needs Children?

When it comes to pediatric dental emergencies and major dental procedures, it’s often best to have children with special needs undergo sedation or general anesthesia. The potential for them to be uncooperative can make treatment a risk otherwise.

Young patients with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, for example, are often evaluated to determine which kind of sedation would be most appropriate. This is on a case-by-case basis and the results can heavily depend on their level of cooperation.

Special Needs that May Necessitate Dental Sedation or General Anesthesia

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Skeletal Muscle Disorders
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy
  • Panic disorder
  • Down Syndrome
  • Other Brain disorders and/or Genetic Syndromes

Home Prep for General Anesthesia

If your pediatric dentist recommends general anesthesia, there are a few guidelines to follow when it comes to eating and drinking. They should be followed from the day before, up until the day of the procedure. Usually, somebody from the dentist’s office will call you and give you specific guidelines. Here are some general instructions you might be given for your child.

  • Food: The night before the procedure, after midnight, your child should not be given any food or non-clear liquids. This includes candy, milk, formula, coffee, soda, or even tea.
    • Formula: If you have an infant that is under 12 months old, baby formula can be given up to six hours prior to the scheduled appointment.
    • Breastfed: If you are breastfeeding, you may nurse your infant up to four hours prior to the scheduled appointment.
  • Liquids: Upon waking and up to two hours prior to the scheduled procedure, only give clear liquids. Water, Pedialyte, and clear fruit juices such as apple juice can be given. Milk and formula should be generally avoided.
  • Medication: Before the visit, a clinician will take down your child’s medical and dental history, including the medications that they may be taking. Unless your child’s dentist explicitly states that they should not be taking their medication prior to the consultation, it is okay for them to take it. The reason why they may tell you to avoid giving your child these medications is because they can potentially interact with the general anesthesia rendering it less effective.

Upon Induction

Even with general anesthesia, a trip to the pediatric dentist may still be somewhat unsettling to your child. Because of this, it is advised that you bring their favorite toy, stuffed animal, or any other comfort item. They may hold us during the induction. You may ask your dentist if you can be present during induction to provide further comfort. If permitted, soothing reassurance or even singing to keep your child at ease is encouraged.

What to Expect After General Anesthesia

After general anesthesia, staff will carefully check your child’s vital signs. Once cleared, you and your child can go home. Some of the more common side effects of general anesthesia are:

  • Numbness of the mouth and nose up to an hour after the procedure
  • Dizziness or nausea while walking immediately after discharge
  • Sore gums and mouth, depending on the extent of the treatments provided
  • Sore throat up to 2 days after general anesthesia

The Decision for General Anesthesia

For many parents, the option of having general anesthesia gives peace of mind in an otherwise stressful situation. We all know how difficult children can be at the dentist. It’s good knowing that today’s pediatric dentists are learning new techniques with general anesthesia and providing cutting-edge care for even the most vulnerable of children.

If you live near Reno, Nevada, our team of dentists and staff at Tooth Fairy Dental will be happy to help you make the best choice for keeping your child calm and comfortable during their treatment.

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