If your child is scheduled for a dental procedure, it's important to talk to the dentist about the pros and cons of using sedation. Local anesthesia numbs the immediate treatment area, while sedation helps manage anxiety for the duration of the procedure. Using sedation is appropriate if a child has a high level of anxiety or cannot comply with the dentist's instructions for some reason. Here are several things you should consider when determining if your child should undergo sedation before having dental work.

1. Is your child mature enough to comply with the dentist's instructions?

Older children are usually able to follow commands, making dental sedation unnecessary in most cases. If your child is very young, however, he might not be able to follow directions during a dental procedure. Sedation relaxes pediatric patients, making it easier for dentists to do their jobs. Using a sedative can also make a visit to the dentist less traumatic for a young child.

2. How complex is the procedure?

If your children's dentist plans to fill one cavity, sedation is probably not necessary. One injection of a local anesthetic will numb the treatment area enough to fill the cavity without causing much anxiety. Sedation is useful if the dentist plans to fill several cavities or perform a time-consuming procedure. If your child is sedated, he won't become restless after 10 or 15 minutes of sitting still.

3. Does your child have a strong gag reflex?

A strong gag reflex makes it difficult for young patients to tolerate many things about a dental visit, from opening their mouths wide to biting into dental wax to create impressions of the teeth. Some dentists combat strong gag reflexes by numbing the back of the mouth and the throat. If your dentist does not use this technique, then it might be best for your child to receive a sedative.

4. Is the procedure likely to cause a lot of pain?

Local anesthesia sometimes wears off before a dentist finishes performing a procedure. This is not a problem for procedures that don't cause a lot of discomfort, but it can be very traumatic for children having extensive dental work. Sedation will help your child remain calm, even if the local anesthetic starts to wear off. 

5. Are there any medical issues to consider?

If your child has been diagnosed with a physical disability, it might be difficult for him to sit up in the dental chair or stretch his legs out in front of him, which can impact your dentist's ability to complete necessary work. Children with autism spectrum disorders may also have difficulty sitting still during dental procedures. If a disability impacts your child's ability to comply with the dentist's instructions or maintain the same position during a lengthy procedure, sedation is a smart choice.

6. Is your child afraid of needles?

To administer local anesthesia, a dentist must inject a numbing agent into the treatment area. If your child is afraid of needles, this can cause increased anxiety during a dental procedure. Nitrous oxide, which is administered with a face mask, helps relax young patients before the dentist attempts to administer a local anesthetic. Once the dentist administers nitrous oxide, she can numb your child's mouth and gums without causing a lot of undue anxiety.

Local anesthesia is a good choice for short procedures, but it is not the best choice for anxious children or children who have special needs. If you think your child needs to be sedated during a dental procedure, talk to the children's dentist in advance of your appointment. With some good planning and the right treatment approach, you can spare your child the anxiety and discomfort associated with visiting the dentist.