Sedating Children with Autism for Dental Procedures

Posted on: 14 October 2016

If you have a child on the autism spectrum who gets upset when it comes time for dental work, your dentist may suggest dental sedation. Dentists often use sedating medications to help calm a child during a dental procedure without putting the child to sleep.

Although the sedation process is generally safe, before agreeing to sedating your child, find out what factors influence a dentist's decision to use sedation. Talk to a pediatric dentist like A Wild Smile to get more information about the different levels of sedation and methods of administration a dentist may use.

Types of Sedation

Your child's dentist may recommend one of the following methods of sedation if your child with autism becomes easily upset during dental procedures.

1. Minimal sedation. Although the patient is awake during the procedure, being given a sedating medication helps to put your child in a relaxed state to reduce his or her fears and anxieties.

2. Conscious sedation. With this form of sedation, your child remains conscious, but he or she may not remember a lot of what occurred during the procedure. The goal is to calm your child's anxiety and prevent him or her from moving too much during the procedure.

3. Deep sedation. Unlike general anesthesia which renders the patient unconscious, a dentist may use a sedation medication that will put your child in a nearly unconscious state. This type of sedation is usually reserved for more complex or invasive dental procedures, especially if your child is extremely uncooperative or physically resistant.


If your dentist suggests the use of a sedative to relax your child while providing dental care, the American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recommends using the form of sedation that poses the lowest risk at the highest therapeutic effectiveness. When deciding which type of sedation to use and how to administer it, a pediatric dentist who treats mentally and/or physically challenged children generally considers the child's:

  • Age

  • Emotional/social maturity

  • Cognitive level

  • Degree of cooperation

  • Medical history

When treating a child with autism, a dentist will also take into account the child's communication skills and anxieties.

Methods of Administration

Sedation often is administered in the dentist's office or an outpatient dental clinic by pediatric dentists who are trained and certified in administering sedation. But make certain that the dentist you choose is equipped and prepared to handle any emergencies that may arise before agreeing to sedation for your child.

Once you give your consent for a dentist to use sedation medication, it can be administered in one of the following ways:

  • Inhalation – The dentist places a mask over the nose through which a combination of nitrous oxide–or laughing gas–and oxygen is given to help your child relax. Your child remains awake during the procedure. The sedation wears off quickly afterward.

  • Orally – Given as a pill, this type of sedation will make your child drowsy, although he or she will still be awake. But, if your child falls asleep, he or she can be easily wakened. The dentist will base the dosage amount of oral medication on your child's age and weight.

  • Through a vein – Intravenous administration of a sedating drug works more quickly and allows the dentist to adjust the level of sedation during the procedure, particularly if it's a procedure that takes longer.

After the Procedure

Following the dental procedure, staff will monitor your child's vital signs and condition until the sedation wears off. Your child may remain nauseous or groggy from the sedative for several hours after the procedure.


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