Overcoming the “Fear Factor” in Children

For many kids—and even some adults—the deepest anxieties don’t always arise from genuine perils: for example, the fear of monsters under the bed; aliens; or the dentist’s chair. None of these have yet been known to cause children any real harm. Yet unlike the first two, every child needs to visit the dentist regularly. And kids sometimes require more complex dental treatments such as fillings, tooth extractions or root canals. The thought of having these procedures can cause some young people (and grownups) more than just a little nervousness; it can make them want to avoid the dentist altogether. Is there anything that can be done to calm those fears?

Fortunately, the answer is yes: Dentists can do plenty to help children overcome fear and anxiety surrounding dental visits. In many cases, a calm, kid-friendly office setting plus some soothing words and simple explanations are all that’s needed to ease a child’s way through. But sometimes that’s not enough—especially for someone with an extreme level of apprehension. That’s when it may be time to employ the techniques of sedation dentistry.

Used for both kids and adults, sedation dentistry involves giving a controlled level of anti-anxiety medication that can melt away the fear. In most cases, a method called conscious sedation is appropriate. This level of sedation allows the patient to breathe normally (without mechanical assistance), and respond to physical and verbal stimuli. However, the child remains completely relaxed during the procedure, showing no signs of anxiety—and afterward, he or she will probably have no memory of what happened.

Conscious sedation may be used to bring on a state of mild, moderate or deep sedation. The milder levels can often be achieved with medications taken by mouth, such as Midazolam (Versed) or Hydroxyzine (Vistaril or Atarax); deeper levels may involve the use of intravenous (IV) drugs. These types of medication can be given by dentists who have had special training in sedation dentistry. In many cases, to ensure safety, both the dentists and their staff are certified in basic and advanced life support techniques. Additionally, a qualified staff member will be designated to monitor the vital signs of a person receiving sedation at all times.

So what happens when your child visits the dentist for conscious sedation? First, he or she will have a pre-sedation evaluation to make sure appropriate medications and techniques are used. Next, the anti-anxiety drugs will be administered, and the dental procedure started; anesthetics (numbing agents) may be used in addition to the sedatives for the most comfortable treatment. When the procedure is over, the child will rest in the office for a short while, and will then need to be taken home and supervised until bedtime. Normal activities can be resumed the following day.

As is the case with any procedure that involves using medication, conscious sedation is not completely risk-free. However, its risks are minimal compared with the danger of not receiving needed dental treatment. Conscious sedation is becoming more widely used as newer, safer drugs are developed, and more dentists and their staffs are receiving advanced training and certification in the latest techniques. Perhaps the best thing about it is that it allows children to enjoy all of the benefits modern dentistry offers—even kids who would previously have been too fearful to set foot in the dentist’s office. So if your child has an extreme level of dental anxiety, don’t be afraid to ask your dentist whether sedation dentistry could help. To learn more call one of our :DP AtYourService Customer Care Representatives at 1-800-238-5163.


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