Saving Children From Dangers of Dental Sedation- The Pediatricians’ Role
For those who may be new to this blog, I’m J. Shahangian, a pediatric dentist in San Diego, and a dad to three girls.
Its my first time doing something like this but I felt obligated to respond to a recent “Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly” piece on NBC News called “Children at Risk? Kids and Sedation at the Dentist’s Office.”
As a dad watching the report – which highlighted several cases nationwide where children under sedation at the dentist’s office wound up in the hospital, with brain damage, or worse – it was hard not to become emotional.
On the other hand, I’m a passionate, pediatric dentist, and it hurt to hear accusations of dentists putting kids in danger — all for personal financial gain.
The story presented a hodgepodge of facts, assumptions and questions — and really tried painting a picture that pitted dentists against parents and pediatricians.
In my opinion, the story was very weak. To make a point, the report opened with a single, mishandled case where a little girl was sedated by a poorly trained dentist who had potentially questionable ethics. Then, it really got messy. I won’t go into all the holes and discrepancies in the rest of the story (I invite you to judge for your self by watching the video here) but it was basically a sensationalized piece intended primarily to keep the viewer glued to the screen.
But I do feel an obligation to say something about the importance of having pediatricians on board and active as advocates for oral health rather than adversaries. In the NBC piece, Megyn Kelley interviewed a pediatrician blogger. I’ve followed her blog for years and was a bit taken back when she aligns herself squarely against dentist by saying she is “knocking on the door to prevent children from adverse effects or death” of children caused by dentists.
Frankly, I think she’s knocking on the wrong door. If she or any other pediatrician wants to prevent adverse effects from dental care in a meaningful way, they need to start by helping prevent dental disease.
Remember, the dentist probably wasn’t the one who created a child’s cavities. In all likelihood, the first health care provider who sees a child’s mouth is often a pediatrician who checks a newborn’s palate the day they are born. Not to mention, every time a kid has a well-child visit, there’s usually an ear and throat check, in addition to the dreaded gag for a tonsil check by the pediatrician during any sick visit.
Yes, pediatricians mean well, but how much time do they take to interview parents about their habits with feeding or oral hygiene? Do pediatricians do a risk assessment for cavities? Do they tell moms that putting a baby to bed with a bottle can increase the risk of tooth decay? Do they give families any information about toothpaste use or brushing technique when their child is too young or too cranky to brush on their own?
What’s more, do pediatricians take the time to refer children to a qualified dentist between six and 12 months of age – a guideline by the American Academy of Pediatrics?
If dental decay is, by far, the No. 1 chronic disease among children — and technically, preventable — we all have to play a part in prevention first.
Let’s join to see how we can best utilize our resources and push for prevention rather than inspiring panic in nervous parents whose anxious young child’s oral health requires surgical intervention like a filling (and at times with the use of sedatives).
I hope both pediatricians and dentists can revisit their approach to oral health. We can balance fear with trust, greed with ethics, decay with prevention and ultimately, achieve our common goal — which is to help children grow up to be happy and healthy.