Dental Sedation for Children

What are the most common types of sedation?

Many pediatric dentists have several sedation options available, and each one comes with its own particular benefits.  Dr. Sabbadini will assess the medical history of the child, the expected duration of the procedure, and the child’s comfort level before recommending a method of sedation.

Nitrous oxide 

Dr. Sabbadini may recommend nitrous oxide (more commonly known as “laughing gas”) for children who exhibit particular signs of nervousness or anxiety.  Nitrous oxide is delivered via a mask, which is placed over the child’s nose.  Nitrous oxide is always combined with at least 50% oxygen (room air typically has 22-23% oxygen) – meaning that the child can comfortably breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth while remaining perfectly safe.

When breathed in through the nose, laughing gas relaxes children extremely quickly,  can produce happy, euphoric behavior, and helps to mute the pain response.  It is also quick acting, painless to deliver, and wears off within a matter of minutes.  Before removing the mask completely, the pediatric dentist delivers 100% oxygen for several minutes, to ensure the nitrous oxide is eliminated from the child’s body.  On rare occasions, nitrous oxide may cause nausea. For this reason, Dr. Sabbadini suggests minimal food intake prior to the appointment.

Oral sedation 

For children who are uncooperative, particularly anxious, or unable to control their movement for prolonged periods, Dr. Sabbadini may recommend oral sedation.  Oral sedatives come in many different forms (usually tablets, pills, and liquids), and can make the child feel drowsy along with providing a short term amnestic effect (i.e. they don't remember the treatment).  If oral sedatives are to be used,  your child must be on an empty stomach for at least 6-8 hours prior to the appointment, wear comfortable clothing, and have at least one adult (preferably two) be prepared to stay with the child for several hours after the appointment  Oral sedatives rarely produce serious side effect with nausea being among the most common.

IV Sedation

General anesthesia (which puts the child in a deep sleep) may be recommended in the following cases:

  • A procedure cannot otherwise be performed safely.
  • The child has a condition which limits cooperation or the ability to follow instructions.
  • The child needs a lengthy treatment.
  • The child needs more complex dental treatment or oral surgery.

General anesthetic requires more intensive preparation before the treatment and a longer period of recovery after the treatment.  We have worked with Dr. Lenhart of Bay Area Anesthesia since 1999 and more information about him and his services can be found at

If you have questions or concerns about sedation techniques, please contact our practice. More information about treatment options can be found in this handout

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