Some children become anxious in the dental office and can’t relax or sit still long enough for the dentist to treat them. For these children, the dentist may suggest forms of medication that allow the child to relax and/or become sleepy. This is called conscious sedation, since the child is still responsive to conversation or stimulation and all his or her protective reflexes are working. It may involve inhaling a gas, taking an oral medication, getting an injection or receiving medication intravenously. Conscious sedation also may be used when a child requires extensive dental treatment or has special needs. Your dentist will recommend which type of conscious sedation is best for your child.
Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is most often used for children who are mildly or moderately anxious or nervous. It eases their fears so that they can relax and receive treatment comfortably and safely. Nitrous oxide is administered by placing a small mask over your child’s nose. Your child will be asked to breathe through his or her nose and not through the mouth. As the gas begins to work, the child becomes calm, although he or she is still awake and can talk with the dentist. When the gas is turned off, the effects of sedation wear off almost immediately. As the child gets older and becomes more comfortable with the dentist, nitrous oxide may not be needed.