General Anesthesia: How to Make Your Child's Dental Appointment Safe & Effective
Even under the best circumstances, visiting the dentist can be a stressful and overwhelming experience for a child. This is especially true if they need extensive dental work, are very young, or have a disability. Unfortunately, when a child is particularly anxious, active, or uncooperative, administering effective dental care can be virtually impossible in a safe manner. In these situations, general anesthesia can help make your child’s trip to the dentist significantly smoother and, most importantly, safe. If you think that general anesthesia may be an option for your child at their next dental appointment, check out these helpful facts from Brisbane Kids Dentist Dr Soha Sharif and her compassionate dental team at Pure Dentistry dental clinic in Brisbane.
What is General Anesthesia?
General anesthesia is a form of medication used to sedate a person to prevent them from moving, being aware of, and experiencing pain while they undergo necessary health procedures. While it is commonly used on children and adults alike, it must be administered in a controlled environment by a qualified physician.
Why Would My Child Need General Anesthesia at the Dentist?
Sometimes, going to the dentist to receive necessary dental treatment can be stressful and difficult for families with young children. In these circumstances, receiving medication to sedate them could make your child’s dental experience smoother, faster, and, most importantly, safer.
Along with other forms of local anesthesia and other forms of sedation, general anesthesia may be recommended by your child’s dentist for several reasons. In most cases, general anesthesia is (recommended) to pediatric patients with physical or psychological health requirements. Your child might benefit from general anesthesia at their next dental appointment if:
- They have a disability or special needs
- Severely anxious or uncooperative during their appointment
- They are very young
- Are in need of extensive dental treatment
- Other sedation medications are not an option
The decision to use general anesthesia should always be taken seriously and discussed with your dentist. Important factors to consider when determining if general anesthesia would be the best option for your child include:
- Their age
- The condition of their mouth
- Their stress and anxiety levels
- Their medical history, including allergies, current medications, and past experiences with anesthesia
- The extent of necessary treatment
On the other hand, if your child needs a routine dental exam, a minor procedure, or is comfortable going to the dentist, general anesthesia would not be necessary.
Is General Anesthesia Safe for Children?
Like all medications, general anesthesia does come with some risks. Even so, it is considered a safe medication for children of all ages, including for those with disabilities or special needs, such as autism, when administered by a trained professional in a controlled environment. At Pure Dentistry, our Brisbane paediatric dentists are fully registered and accredited to provide dental treatments to pediatric patients under a general anesthetic at the hospital. A qualified anesthetic specialist will administer the medication, then closely monitor your child until their procedure is complete.
What to Expect When My Child Receives General Anesthesia at Pure Dentistry
Knowing that your child must be sedated to receive necessary oral health treatment can be stressful for a parent. However, knowing what to expect and preparing your family beforehand can make the process easier for you and your child alike. Here’s what you can expect before, during, and after they receive dental care while under general anesthesia.
Before dental treatment under GA
Before your child’s procedure, be sure to do the following:
- Discuss your child’s medical history with the dentist, including current medications, past surgeries, and previous experiences with anesthetics
- Speak with the person who will be administering the medication and monitoring your child during their procedure. Be sure to let the anesthesiologist know about your child’s:
- Complete medical history, including surgeries
- Behavioral or psychological diagnoses, such as autism
- Respiratory, gastrointestinal, hematological, or neurological diseases
- Be aware of any fasting your child may be required to do before their appointment. In most cases, to follow these instructions:
- For infants under 12 months: formula may be given 6 hours before anesthesia; breast milk may be given 4 hours before anesthesia
- For children older than 12 months: No solid foods or non-clear liquids after midnight the day before anesthesia, including milk, juice, or formula, and no clear liquids within 2 hours of anesthesia.
- Ask if there are any steps you should take at home before their appointment, such as taking or avoiding certain medications
- Know what to expect in the case of an emergency, including what medications and equipment will be available to help your child
During Dental treatment under GA
When the time comes for general anesthesia to be given to your child, you will be allowed to stay with them to help minimize their anxiety. Anesthesia can be given to children in several ways, including:
- Breathing through a mask (gaseous)
- Receiving medication through an IV (intravenous)
The anesthesiologist will determine which method is the best option for your child based on their age and comfort level. After your child has been induced with the sedative, you will be asked to leave until the dental procedure is complete. In most cases, they will be sedated for about an hour and a half. Depending on how long the treatment will take, you may wait at the hospital or go home until you’re called.
Managing Stress in Children
If your child is showing signs of stress leading up to their procedure, the following steps may help them feel better:
- Bring the child on the tour of the operating and recovery room
- Let them talk to the dentist and the anesthesiologist beforehand
- Let them bring their favorite stuffed animal or blanket for comfort
- Ask the anaesethist about giving them a pre-induction sedative
- Stay with them until they are fully unconscious from the anesthesia
- Stay calm! If you’re relaxed, your child is more likely to be relaxed, too
If your child is very young, extremely anxious about going to the dentist, or has a health condition that could make extensive dental treatment difficult, our paediatric dentist and her trusted team at Pure Dentistry are here to make their next dental appointment a positive experience. Contact us today to learn more about how general anesthesia could benefit your child and help them receive the dental work they need in a safe, comfortable setting.
Managing Stress in Parents
The experience of getting general anesthesia for a dental procedure is usually more stressful and overwhelming for a parent than a child. After all, the child won’t remember the procedure at all, while the parents have to endure preparing their child for anesthesia, then waiting for them to come out safe and healthy on the other side. Sometimes, it can be helpful for an anxious parent to tour the operating room before their child’s procedure. Additionally, building a close relationship with the dentist and communicating your concerns with her before your child’s dental treatment can make a big difference in easing a worried parent’s mind.
If you find yourself to be more anxious than you anticipated before your child undergoes general anesthesia for a dental procedure, do your best to address those concerns and never talk about them with your child. Children can sense their parents’ anxiety, which will only make them more afraid and hesitant when their appointment arrives.
After Dental treatment under GA
After the anesthesia has worn off and your child is fully conscious, you will be welcome to visit them in the recovery room. Keep in mind that the following symptoms are common for your child to experience after being sedated:
- Numb nose, mouth, and throat for up to 45 minutes after their procedure
- Sore throat for a day or two
- Sore gums and teeth for a day or two depending on what dental treatment they received
- Dizziness or nausea for a few hours up to a couple of days
As long as they are stable and responding well to their dental procedure, your child will be free to go home shortly after their treatment is complete. It’s typical for children to be tired or groggy for several hours after the anesthesia has worn off, so it’s best to rest for the remainder of the day. They shouldn’t return to daycare or school until the next day.
Be sure to contact a paediatric dentist right away if your child experiences any of the following more than 24 hours after their procedure:
- Severe bleeding of their gums
- Severe dizziness or vomiting