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Expert Advice

Is sleep dentistry safe for my child? An expert gives us the lowdown

Should kids as young as four be sedated while at the dentist?

By Rebel Wylie
Ever been knocked out to have some dental work done? That's 'sleep dentistry' and it is typically a term used to describe general anaesthetic being used on patients in the dentist chair.
Given that children remember trauma pretty well, and given that an experience in the dentist chair might be considered traumatic, is sleep dentistry the best option for dental care for kids?
We spoke with Dr Mohamed Massaud aka 'Dr Mo' from Casey Smiles to get the low down.
"Sleep dentistry is where the patient will go completely to sleep while we are undertaking the treatment required," explains Dr Mo.
"It typically used to only occur at a private or a public hospital, but having the ability to introduce general anaesthetic in the dental clinic makes it a lot more easier and convenient for patients.
"It is very safe and is used on a daily basis."
Dr Mohamed Massaud aka 'Dr Mo' uses general anaesthetic in his dental clinic for children as young as five years old. (Image: Supplied)

Sleep dentistry for children

There are different types of sleep dentistry and these include; general anaesthetics, intravenous sedation (or known as twilight sedation) and Nitrox Oxide (happy gas). Children as young as four are able to use all three forms of anaesthesia.
"In the presence of a qualified professional, using general anaesthetics on young children is very safe, however there are some risks that parents should be aware of when allowing their children to be sedated," cautions Dr Mo.
"As parents would know, it can be very difficult to get your kids to sit still, especially in a strange environment. Despite this, general anaesthesia isn't always necessary."
Dentists will also use less intrusive forms of distractions to relax patients, such as the screening of kids' movies.
"Sometimes, the best method is to just put on an entertaining movie or TV show for children to watch. That can actually get them to the level of calm and comfort that is necessary for treatment."
WATCH: Buck-toothed boy gets a winning smile makeover. Continues after video ...

When is sleep dentistry for children necessary?

"An important aspect that a lot of people might not be aware of is that children remember trauma very well," explains Dr Mo.
"If we traumatise a child who needs a tooth extracted, he/she will most likely develop a long term phobia about dentists, which will cause life long dental complications due to them avoiding a dentist when they can.
"We see this everyday in adults coming in with preventable dental issues."
So how do parents determine if their child is simply anxious, or if their experience in the dentists chair will leave them with long-lasting trauma?
"Dentists will assess each child and help parents make that decision," explains Dr Mo. "Some kids can cope very well and have no issues, but for some, they are very scared. That's when sleep dentistry comes in handy."
Following a procedure under sleep dentistry, children generally wake up with no memory of the treatment, or any awareness of anything frightening or traumatic.
Sleep dentistry can help prevent children developing a phobia about the dentist. (Image: Getty Images)
Unfortunately there have been cases where dental practices lack the sufficient qualifications to administer sedation.
The Australian Society of Dental Anaesthesiology says greater regulations are needed to protect patients from 'rogue' dentists who do not have the appropriate training to administer the drugs. If an overdose or a negative reaction occurs, the practice may not be properly informed or equipped to neutralise the situation.
"My advice to people is, do your homework," Dr Mo added.
"If your dentist has told you that general anaesthesia is available or required, I recommend asking a lot of questions to ensure that a qualified anaesthetist is on site and has the required level of training and expertise.
"Ensure they have the proper equipment and the proper training to know what to do in the event of a medical emergency."
Dr Mo founded Casey Smiles Dental Clinic in Cranbourne, Victoria which offers sleep dentistry for both adults and children. Visit their site here.

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