Advances in anesthetics have allowed dental treatment to be almost pain-free. However, invasive treatments such as filling deep cavities or doing root canals can still be unsettling for small children. When a small child needs dental treatment, most dentists will either wait until the child can hold still for the duration of the treatment or recommend general anesthesia.
Once your child is around five or six years old, they may be able to have successful treatments with only local anesthesia. But how do you know when your child is ready?
How Familiar Is Your Child With Their Dentist?
If your child has had yearly exams with your dentist since their first tooth came in, they are likely comfortable and familiar with the dentist and technicians who work in the office. This will make your child more likely to trust the dentist and be able to hold still through the sounds of drilling and cleaning.
However, if your child is going in for the first appointment due to pain or an emergency, your child will be more likely to fear the dentist and may benefit from general anesthesia.
Can Your Child Follow Simple Instructions?
When a child is awake for a procedure, they will be asked to open their mouth and relax. While these seem like simple tasks, under the stress of a dental treatment, they may be difficult for your child to follow. If your child's dentist has to spend a significant amount of time coaxing your child to open their mouth, the treatment may take longer and the local anesthesia may wear off, causing your child unnecessary pain.
Often, under general anesthesia, dental work can be completed more efficiently with better results. But if your child is cooperative and can follow instructions, they may be ready for local anesthesia.
How Much Work Needs To Be Done?
If your child only has one or two medium fillings to complete, your dentist may urge them to try local anesthesia, especially if the problem teeth are located in the front of the mouth. However, if there are root canals or several cavities or if the work needing to be done is near the back of the mouth, your child may become exhausted during the procedure. In these cases, it may be a better choice to opt for general anesthesia.
Which type of anesthesia you choose for your child is a highly personal choice. Discuss your options with your pediatric dentist and make sure to advocate for the best option for your individual child.