Sedation dentistry has been making the headlines lately. Unfortunately, not all the press is good.
A 23-year-old Hawaii mother remains in a coma after a routine extraction under sedation led to cardiac arrest. Another Hawaii resident, this time a toddler, dies from heart complications after a sedation in a dentist’s office. And yet another child, this one in Louisiana, never woke up from sedation for a procedure to place crowns on his primary teeth.
Sedation dentistry is exactly what it sounds like — patients are given intravenous (IV) sedation so that they can sleep through a dental procedure. Dentists who provide patients with the sedation option must be certified, and maintain a certain amount of training hours every year to keep their credentials.
Whether or not the dentists involved in each of the above cases were properly trained will certainly be brought to light in the impending investigations. Of great concern as well will be the patients’ eligibility for a procedure at the time of sedation.
It’s the duty of the dentist to assess the appropriateness of sedation for an individual patient based on a variety of factors. Age and general health must be weighed against safety concerns. For example, if an autistic patient requires a dental procedure, but is likely to lash out during an operation (given the unfamiliarity of the situation), sedation may be the best answer.
While there are thousands of sedation procedures every year that go off without a hitch, it doesn’t minimize the importance of investigation the few times they don’t go correctly. We’ll watch carefully in the coming weeks to see what new information comes to light in each of these cases.