Your Guide to Sedation in Pediatric Dentistry

kids smiling

The idea of sedating your child for dental work can be nerve-wracking. But we want to reassure you that pediatric dental sedation is a widely accepted practice, thus, considered safe and effective. 

This article will discuss everything you need to know about sedation in pediatric dentistry. We'll review its benefits and importance for your child's dental health. We'll also provide tips to prepare your child before sedation and how to care for them after the procedure.

Let's dive in.

History of Sedation

Before we begin, here’s a quick trip down to memory lane.

Sedation has come a long way in dentistry, and it's fascinating to see how this technique has evolved. The earliest attempts at dental sedation were made by Dr. Horace Wells, who used nitrous oxide in 1844 during tooth extraction, making him the father of anesthesia. However, sedation became more widely accepted after Dr. William T.G. Morton successfully used ether in 1846. 

The use of nitrous oxide and oxygen mixtures became popular in 1869, and Niels Bjorn Jorgensen's intravenous sedation technique in the mid-20th century paved the way for modern sedation practices. Dental sedation is an essential part of dentistry, providing patients, especially children, with a comfortable and stress-free dental experience.

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Sedation vs. Anesthesia: What’s the Difference?

Sedation and anesthesia are often mistaken as similar. However, these two differ in many ways.

Sedation, also known as monitored anesthesia, helps you feel relaxed during a dental procedure. It uses sedatives that can be taken intravenously (IV), orally, or through a face mask. There are three primary levels of sedation.


Minimal sedation is the lightest level of sedation used to reduce anxiety and discomfort during minor medical or dental procedures. The patient remains conscious and responsive to stimuli.


Moderate sedation is a level of sedation that induces a state of depressed consciousness in the patient while keeping them conscious and able to respond to stimuli. It is commonly used during minor surgeries and medical procedures.


Deep sedation is a level of sedation in which the patient is almost or entirely unconscious and cannot be easily awakened. It is used for more invasive procedures like dental surgery. It requires careful monitoring to maintain the patient's airway and vital signs (e.g., heart rate and blood pressure).

On the other hand, anesthesia uses anesthetics to keep you from feeling pain during a dental procedure. There are two types of anesthesia, local and general. Local anesthesia is a numbing medication directly injected into the area where a certain oral surgery will be conducted. 

General anesthesia makes you unconscious and insensitive to pain or other stimuli. This anesthesia often induces a loss of consciousness during surgery. 

Pediatric dentists may decide between sedation and anesthesia based on various factors such as age, medical history, and the complexity and length of the dental procedure.

Ultimately, the decision to use sedation or anesthesia will depend on the child's individual needs and dental goals. Prior to any procedure, parents need to discuss concerns they may have about their child’s procedure. 

By discussing the parent's concerns and fears, the dentist can work with the parent to develop strategies helping the child feel more comfortable during the dental procedure.

For example, the dentist can explain the benefits and risks of these techniques and work with the parent towards an appropriate care plan.

Speaking of benefits!

child playing in clinic

Benefits of Sedation in Kids’ Dental Work

Remember that sedation isn’t always necessary for pediatric dental procedures and should only be used when deemed appropriate by your pediatric dental specialist.

Nevertheless, even simple dental procedures can cause fear and discomfort, leading to the avoidance of necessary treatments. Therefore, sedation in children's dental work can be beneficial in specific cases. 

Here are some of the benefits of pediatric procedural sedation.

Reduces anxiety and pain 

The process helps alleviate anxiety and pain in children during medical procedures. This can make the experience less traumatic for the child, thus, more manageable for the medical staff to handle.

Improves cooperation

Sedation allows a child to cooperate with medical procedures that may be difficult to perform otherwise. This can be particularly helpful for children who fear needles or medical equipment.

Leads to a better outcome 

Medical procedures can be performed more effectively and efficiently with sedation. This can lead to a better outcome for the child and may also help to reduce the risk of complications.

Enhances safety 

Sedation enhances safety during medical procedures, particularly those that involve anesthesia. Additionally, the use of sedation can reduce the risk of injury or trauma to the child during the process.

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Types of Sedation Used in Pediatric Dentistry

Knowing the benefits of sedation and anesthesia can be comforting. However, remember that your child can only be qualified for several types of sedation. In common practice, these are the types of sedation your dentist might recommend:

Nitrous oxide

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as "laughing gas," is a form of mild sedation administered by inhaling the gas through a mask placed over the child's nose. This type of sedation can help children feel more at ease during dental procedures without causing significant drowsiness or discomfort. Nitrous oxide is also easy to administer, as it does not require a needle.

Nitrous oxide is considered one of the safest and most commonly used forms of pediatric dental sedation, with minimal side effects. In fact, one of its more pleasant side effects is the feeling of giggles, which is why it's often referred to as "laughing gas."

Oral sedation

Oral sedation involves using medications that are swallowed before the dental procedure. These medications can help children feel more relaxed and sleepy. However, they will still be awake and able to respond to the dentist's instructions. Oral sedation is often used for children who are afraid of needles. Since it has a soothing effect, it can cause temporary memory loss during the procedure.

Intravenous (IV) sedation

Intravenous (IV) sedation involves administering sedative drugs through a child's arm or hand vein. This type of sedation is required in more complex dental procedures such as oral surgery. IV sedation is fully customizable to a child's needs and has a rapid onset of action.

Due to the deeper level of sedation, careful monitoring by a pediatric dentist is required during IV sedation. This type of sedation is only offered to sixteen-year-old patients or older or competent adolescents aged 14 and above.

General anesthesia

General anesthesia involves putting the child into a deep sleep through medication. This type of sedation is typically reserved for more complex dental procedures such as oral and maxillofacial surgery or for children who have difficulty cooperating. General anesthesia is generally only used for children who are ten years of age or younger.

*Note: After taking sedatives, your child may fall asleep for eight hours or feel drowsy and irritable for 24 hours.

When is Sedation Necessary?

According to research, dental anxiety affects up to 10% of children, and an estimated 5-10% require some form of sedation during dental procedures. With these numbers, you can say that children with dental anxiety are just a tiny portion of patients requiring sedation.

There are other factors shaping the dentist’s decision to use sedation, and they include:

  • Child's behavioral issues (e.g., ADHD)
  • Lengthy or complex dental procedures (e.g., oral surgery, maxillofacial surgery)
  • Other medical problems in children (e.g., cerebral palsy)

Furthermore, the type and level of dental sedation or anesthesia pediatric dentists or anesthesiologists can use vary depending on several important factors, such as:

  • Child's age and weight
  • Anxiety level
  • Medical history and current health status
  • Parental preference 
  • Availability of trained personnel

Before any procedure is performed, it is common for your pediatric dentist to obtain informed consent from you.

Informed consent is important in pediatric dentistry because children may need help understanding or communicating the risks and benefits of a particular procedure.

The consent includes a detailed explanation of the procedure, potential risks, benefits, and alternatives to the procedure. It also involves discussing any possible complications or side effects that may arise during or after the procedure.

By obtaining informed consent, you can make an informed decision about your child's healthcare. Your pediatric dental specialist can also provide the appropriate level of care safely and ethically. 

Informed consent also helps establish trust and open communication between your family and your dentist, leading to better outcomes and a positive experience for everyone involved.

Possible Side Effects of Sedation

While it is entirely safe, sedation in pediatric dentistry is not without its potential side effects. With a trained professional, though, there’s nothing to worry about. 

In this regard, here are the possible side effects of sedation in dental work:

  • Feeling giggles (the most pleasant side effect of Nitrous Oxide)
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Feeling faint, lightheaded, or dizzy
  • Blurry vision
  • Feeling sleepy
  • Drowsiness
  • Dry mouth

Aside from this list of minor side effects, there is little to no  evidence that sedation causes serious risks or complications. To back this up, studies on the efficacy of deep sedation show a 99.6% success rate. 

How to Prepare Your Child for Anesthesia or Sedation

Prepping your kid for this procedure can be overwhelming if your dentist recommends anesthesia or sedation. But don't worry!

Here are some helpful tips to help you prepare and make your child's experience as comfortable and safe as possible. 

Talk to your child

Explain to your child what to expect during the procedure calmly. Use simple words and avoid scary or negative comments that might make your child more anxious. Answer any questions your child may have honestly and reassuringly. 

Follow pre-procedure instructions

Your dentist or healthcare provider may give specific instructions to prepare your child for the procedure. The most common instruction is fasting and avoiding some medicine. Make sure to follow these instructions carefully to avoid any complications.

Use comfort items

Bring your child's favorite comfort items, such as a stuffed animal or blanket, to the procedure to help them feel more relaxed.

Stay with your child

Your presence can help make your child feel secure and safe before dental procedures. Ask your child’s dentist or dental practitioner if you can stay with them during sedation or until they are fully asleep. 

Be aware of potential side effects

Anesthesia or sedation can have potential side effects such as nausea, dizziness, or grogginess. Be aware of these side effects and plan accordingly to make your child feel comfortable after the procedure.

It is better to ask your pediatric dentist what to do if your child feels some side effects.

Follow post-procedure instructions

Your child’s dentist will give you specific instructions on how to care for your child after the procedure. Follow these instructions carefully to ensure your child's safety and comfort.

These tips can help you achieve a better outcome for your child's dental work. These can also prevent any adverse sedation events from happening. If you're also looking for more tips, here’s an article about preparing your child for their first dental visit

Postoperative Care and Follow-Up

After the pediatric procedural sedation, following appropriate postoperative care to ensure your child's safety and comfort is essential. Your dentist will provide detailed aftercare instructions. Such instructions may include proper diet, activity, and medication guidelines. 

Aside from following your dentist’s instructions, it’s essential that you:

Monitor your child closely - keep a close eye on your child after the sedation procedure. Pay close attention to your child for signs of complications or adverse reactions. Contact your pediatric dentist immediately if you notice any unusual symptoms or behaviors.

Manage pain and discomfort - your child may experience some pain and discomfort after the procedure or when the effects of sedation wear off. Your dentist may suggest some home remedies or some medication. Administer any prescribed pain medications as directed.

Encourage rest - rest is vital in dental procedures requiring sedation or anesthesia (e.g., dental surgery, maxillofacial surgery). Encourage your child to rest and limit activity for the first few days after the procedure. It will hasten their recovery and will also avoid unexpected problems.

Emphasize good oral hygiene - help your child maintain good oral hygiene after the procedure by encouraging them to brush, floss, and use mouthwash. Good oral hygiene can help the gums and teeth heal faster. It also prevents dental issues such as carries and infections.

Schedule follow-up appointments - appointments with the dentist are essential to monitoring your child's recovery. Visiting your child’s dentist can also help spot possible oral problems and prevent them from leading to more significant issues.  

The Bottom Line

In summary, not only does sedation in pediatric dentistry help manage any pain or discomfort, but it can also help ease any anxiety in children. Using sedation can also ensure the positive outcome of your child's dental procedure.

However, the success of pediatric procedural sedation is independent of what happens during the initial process. With the proper knowledge and preparation, your child's dental experience will have promising results. And you don’t even have to deal with the anxiety caused by your uncertainty and lack of information.

Remember that nothing beats the guidance of a qualified dental professional. And such expertise would only be useful with your full support and cooperation. 

First time parents or guardians may encounter a lot of questions about their kids’ dental care. And it’s perfectly normal to doubt and fear.

In case you have dental concerns or questions you’ve always wanted to ask your dentist, we’ve answered all of them in this article. 

Nonetheless, you can personally talk to our pediatric dentist.

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Make Your Kid's Dental Work in Culver City Anxiety-Free

If your child struggles with anxiety or behavior issues during dental procedures, don't hesitate to contact our pediatric dentist at Culver City Dentist United Dental Care.

By working together with our dental expert, you can ensure your child will foster a positive attitude towards dental visits and receive the dental care they need. Remember, a healthy smile is integral to overall health, and investing in your child's dental health can have lifelong benefits.

Book an appointment now and get top-notch dental services for you and your kids.

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