Is Dental Sedation Safe for Kids?

Is Dental Sedation Safe for Kids?

As a parent, what you want most is to keep your children healthy and safe. Part of that is bringing them in for regular dental check-ups. Just like adults, some kids have extreme dental anxieties and fears. For these patients, dental sedation is sometimes the only option. In other cases, small children need big procedures, and dental sedation may help them get through it with less strain and fear.

When sedation is discussed, parents have one question on their mind. Is dental sedation safe for my child?

What is Dental Sedation?

What is Dental Sedation?As with adult patients, children may need sedation to get through a scary appointment or a big procedure.  Dental sedation involves the application of medication to help a patient relax, calm down, and feel less anxious. The sedation drugs can be breathed in, administered in pill form, or be part of an intravenous line in the hand or arm. While technically an option, general anesthesia is rarely used and only under very specific circumstances.

Before a sedation method is made available to a patient, they must undergo a review of their medical history, including current medications, and have their vital signs checked. While dental sedation is a good option for most patients, not everyone is a good candidate. Certain health concerns like apnea, lung problems, high blood pressure, and more can disqualify a patient from certain types of sedation methods.

Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is one of the safest and most common dental sedation options available. A covering is worn over the nose, and patients inhale the gas as they breathe normally. The medication takes effect almost immediately and wears off within a few minutes after it’s removed.

Kid-sized breathing masks are available, and in some cases, special scents like orange or grape are offered. This helps make the process seem less strange and intimidating. While a small percentage of children don’t enjoy nitrous oxide, it makes most kids giggly and silly.

Oral Sedation

Oral SedationOral sedation is a form of anxiety medication designed to make sure patients are calm prior to and during the procedure. Typically, two doses of medication are prescribed. One for the night before, and one to be taken prior to the appointment. Based on your child’s age, weight, and overall health, the dose they’re given may vary.

While sedated, most patients are able to talk to their dentist and the dental assistants and respond to requests. Some patients don’t remember everything  from their procedure when the medication wears off. Adults are advised not to drive after oral sedation. Children who can drive need to follow the same guidelines. Younger children need rest and may nap until the sedation wears off.

IV Sedation

Intravenous or IV sedation is a stronger method and is not commonly used. Anti-anxiety medication is administered through a needle in the patient’s hand or arm and puts them in a deeper sedated state than oral sedation. They can respond to requests to adjust their position or move, but they will likely remember nothing of the procedure later.

While the IV is in, patients must have their vital signs – heart rate and blood pressure – monitored the entire time. Many safety concerns for children occur during IV sedation and other deeper options like general anesthesia.

New Guidelines for Pediatric Sedation

New Guidelines for Pediatric SedationIn 2016, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry released new guidelines on dental sedation for children. This was done in order to keep children safe and avoid problems some families have experienced as a result of sedation. Some of the guidelines may sound like good, common sense approaches to a parent, and they are things that highly qualified dentists already do for all their patients.

A few of the new guidelines include:

  • Sedation medication must be administered with medical and dental supervision.
  • Careful evaluations must be made to make sure a child is a good candidate for sedation.
  • Fasting procedures must be in place – and appropriate for a child. If fasting is not an option, the depth of sedation may need to be decreased.
  • Dentists must check for enlarged tonsils or any other abnormalities that could block a child’s airway during sedation.


Whether dental sedation is safe for your child depends on their previous medical history, their current medical needs, and many other factors. While many healthy children will do fine under sedation, it’s not an option for everyone. Talk to your dentist and ask plenty of questions about the sedation method they recommend and use, including their procedures and how they’ll keep your child safe.