By Catherine St. Louis, nytimes.com
In dental offices nationwide, children who need cavities filled or teeth pulled are sometimes sedated. Ideally, it makes them less anxious and more cooperative.
They may swallow a liquid sedative or inhale laughing gas and once it kicks in, they will be conscious but calmer, so the dentist can do extensive work.
But in rare cases, children fall into a much deeper level of sedation than intended. If they aren’t rescued quickly, they may stop breathing or even die. It is critical for the dental staff to keep track of the patient’s vital signs and quickly recognize an obstructed airway or a problem with the heart or breathing.
In recent years, a few reports of sedated children dying at dental offices have come to light, alarming lawmakers, parents and the dental profession. In 2013, University of Washington researchers found 44 cases over three decades in which dental patients died after sedation or general anesthesia. Most were 2 to 5 years old.