If your kids need dental work - especially emergency dental care after an accident or other injury - it can be a little nerve-wracking for both child and parent. One way to alleviate fear and anxiety is the use of nitrous oxide at the dentist. But what can you expect with the gas and is it safe for your kids?
What Does it Do (and Not Do)?
First used during by a dentist in 1844, nitrous oxide has a long history of successful use by dentists. While it doesn't work as a general anesthetic, it can help significantly with anxiety and fear of dental procedures. The effects of the gas range include:
- An initial feeling of being lightheaded
- Tingling in the extremities
- Warm sensations
- A floating sensation or a feeling of well-being
- Sleepiness, but only at deeper levels of sedation
Although nitrous oxide is safe for limited times at full concentration, it's combined with at least 30% oxygen for longer-term safety and efficacy. The effects will likely begin around 15 minutes after beginning sedation and end around 15 minutes after the gas is turned off. Dentists will often reduce the level of nitrous oxide toward the end of the procedure so that the patient quickly returns to feeling normal.
Is it Okay for Kids?
Studies have found that sedation with 70% nitrous oxide is a safe and effective means of reducing anxiety and fear in children when other means are insufficient. Before choosing any sedation technique, of course, parents should work with the dentist to determine if such things as positive reinforcement, parental assistance or desensitization can help. Because nitrous oxide is safer and less complicated than general anesthesia, it can provide a good compromise between alertness and total sedation.
Which children might benefit most from using nitrous oxide?
- An anxious yet cooperative child. If your child has suffered an emergency, they may be feeling more anxiety than normal about the dental visit. Nitrous oxide may help alleviate that added fear in an otherwise-tolerant pediatric patient.
- A child with a strong gag reflex. Kids who are unable to tolerate having the dental instruments inside their mouths may be helped by nitrous oxide. While the gas can help reduce a gag reflex, it doesn't affect the cough reflex or aspiration if needed.
- A mentally or physically disabled child.
- Long dental procedures. Because nitrous oxide causes a lack of perception of time passing, it can help a child relax during a longer-than-normal procedure.
Schedule a time to speak with your a dentist, like the ones at Children's Dentistry of Lake County, about the use of nitrous oxide. This will enable you to be comfortable with the decision and avoid additional time and anxiety at the time of any actual work being performed, especially if a dental emergency occurs. Since kids often take their cues about anxiousness from their parents, it's important that you work with your dentist to alleviate any concerns about nitrous oxide as a safe and reliable way to help your child relax in the dental chair.