Photo: Stuart Isett for The New York Times
According to a recent New York Times article, dentists nationwide say they are seeing more preschoolers at all income levels with 6 to 10 cavities or more.
Catherine Saint Louis reports that one such preschooler is 2 ½-year-old Devon Koester, who recently received general anesthesia at the Center for Pediatric Dentistry in Seattle so that a pediatric dentist could treat his 11 cavities with fillings or extractions.
Devon’s extensive procedure may seem like an exception, but unfortunately, he is far from the only one. According to the many dentists and specialists interviewed by Saint Louis, dental decay among preschoolers is widespread, growing more so, and often so far evolved that administering general anesthesia seems hardly avoidable.
Do They Have to Go Under?
The use of anesthesia is a big concern to many parents, especially those with very young children. Reasons for the worry include higher costs, risks for side effects like vomiting or nausea, and in rare cases, serious health risks like brain damage or death.
In a related story that made Yahoo! headlines, parents of Maryland teen, Jenny Olenick filed a civil suit when Jenny died during wisdom teeth surgery. According to the article, Jenny’s death was due to hypoxia, or oxygen deprivation while she was anesthetized. Examples such as this are rare.
Dentists like the one who treated Devon tend to use general anesthesia for more extensive procedures that youngsters would have a difficult time sitting through. Alameda and Pleasanton Pediatric Dentistry experts stress that sedation performed under American Society of Anesthesiologists is safe and effective, especially during fillings, crowns, and extractions. The use of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is another alternative. Its onset is quick and the effects wear off almost immediately. Patients remain alert and awake during procedures performed under the calming effects of nitrous oxide.
Prevention vs. Cure
The underlying problem for involved dental procedures requiring anesthesia is widespread dental decay; in other words, lots and lots of cavities! Frequent and unhealthy snacking, soda and sweets, and failure to brush are the main causes – all of this can be monitored at home so that fillings and extractions need not be an issue to begin with.
“Prevention is key, and starting early!” Dr. Thenard of Alameda Pediatric Dentistry stresses. “That’s why we want to see kids at age 1…to explain the caries process to the parents to prevent all this decay.”