Frequently Asked Questions

questionmarkNitrous Oxide

Q: What is nitrous oxide/oxygen?

Nitrous oxide/oxygen (N2O-O2) is a blend of two gases — oxygen and nitrous oxide. A fitted mask is placed over the nose and, as the patient breathes normally, uptake occurs through the lungs. At the end of treatment, it is eliminated after a short period of breathing oxygen and has no lingering effects.

Q: How will my child feel when breathing nitrous oxide/oxygen?

Your child will smell a faint, sweet aroma and experience a sense of well-being and relaxation. Since it may produce a feeling of giddiness or euphoria, it is often called “laughing gas.” Children sometimes report dreaming and their arms and legs may feel “tingly.” It raises the pain threshold and may even make the time appear to pass quickly. If your child is worried by the sights, sounds or sensations of dental treatment, he or she may respond more positively with the use of nitrous oxide/oxygen.

Q: How safe is nitrous oxide/oxygen?

Very safe. Nitrous oxide/oxygen is perhaps the safest sedative in dentistry. It is well tolerated. It has a rapid onset, is reversible, can be adjusted in various concentrations and is non-allergenic. Your child remains fully conscious — keeps all natural reflexes — when breathing nitrous oxide/oxygen. He/she will be capable of responding to a question or request. Nitrous oxide/oxygen may also be used in combination with other sedative agents.

Q: Are there any special instructions for nitrous oxide/oxygen?

First, give your child little or no food in the two hours preceding the dental visit (occasionally, nausea or vomiting occurs when a child has a full stomach). Second, tell your pediatric dentist about any respiratory condition that makes breathing through the nose difficult for your child, as it may limit the effectiveness of nitrous oxide/oxygen. Third, tell your pediatric dentist if your child is taking any medication on the day of the appointment.

Q: Will nitrous oxide/oxygen work for all children?

Pediatric dentists know that all children are not alike. Every service is tailored to your child as an individual. Nitrous oxide/oxygen may not be effective for some children, especially those who have severe anxiety, nasal congestion, or discomfort wearing a nasal mask. Your pediatric dentist will review your child’s medical history, level of anxiety, and dental treatment needs and inform you if nitrous oxide/oxygen is recommended for your child. Pediatric dentists have comprehensive specialty training and can offer other sedation methods that are right for your child.

Dental Care for Special Needs

Q: Do special children have special dental needs?

A: Most do. Some special children are very susceptible to tooth decay, gum disease or oral trauma. Others require medication or diet detrimental to dental health. Still other children have physical difficulty with effective dental habits at home. The good news is, dental disease is preventable. If dental care is started early and followed conscientiously, every child can enjoy a healthy smile.

Q: How can I prevent dental problems for my special child?

A: A first dental visit by the first birthday will start your child on a lifetime of good dental health. The pediatric dentist will take a full medical history, gently examine your child’s teeth and gums, then plan preventive care designed for your child’s needs.

Q: Will preventive dentistry benefit my child?

A: Yes! Your child will benefit from the preventive approach recommended for all children- effective brushing and flossing, moderate snacking, adequate fluoride. Home care takes just minutes a day and prevents needless dental problems. Regular professional cleanings and fluoride treatments are also very beneficial. Sealants can prevent tooth decay on the chewing surfaces of molars where four out of five cavities occur.

Q: Are pediatric dentists prepared to care for special children?

A: Absolutely. Pediatric dentists have two or more years of advanced training beyond dental school. Their education as specialists focuses on care for children with special needs. In addition, pediatric dental offices are designed to be physically accessible for special patients. Pediatric dentists, because of their expertise, are often the clinicians of choice for the dental care of adults with special needs as well.

Q: Will my child need special care during dental treatment?

A: Some children need more support than a gentle, caring manner to feel comfortable during dental treatment. Restraint or mild sedation may benefit your special child. If a child needs extensive treatment, the pediatric dentist may provide care at a local hospital. Your pediatric dentist has a comprehensive education in behavior management, sedation and anesthesia techniques. He or she will select a technique based on the specific health needs of your child, then discuss the benefits, limits and risks of that technique with you.


Q: What is a cavity?

A: A cavity is a hole in a tooth caused by the disease process known as “tooth decay.”

Q: What do cavities look like?

A: Cavities vary in appearance and evolve over time, but typically look like dark spots, holes, or chips in the teeth. They usually have a yellow, brown or black appearance and can be as small as a tiny dot or as large as the entire tooth.

Q: How do I know if my child has a cavity?

A: Depending on the size and location, a cavity may not be visible to you in your child’s mouth. Cavities that are in between teeth or on the back surfaces can be difficult to see at home, but are easily seen with the right dental equipment and x-rays. When you bring your child to the dentist for a check-up every six months, he or she will be evaluated for cavities. In between appointments, if your child complains of a toothache or you see a hole, dark spot, or chip, you should come in right away. Waiting can cause the cavity to grow in size and severity, and the treatment can become more invasive.

Q: What causes cavities?

A: There are several causes of tooth decay including diet, oral hygiene, and genetics.  Typical dietary causes include foods that are sticky, sugary, or starchy, and drinks that are sugary and/or acidic.  Pediatricians and Pediatric Dentists alike recommend the weaning of infants from the use of a bottle or breastfeeding at will by the age of 1. Typical oral hygiene causes include improper brushing techniques, not brushing often enough, and not flossing. Some children still get cavities even with a great diet and oral hygiene because the bacteria in their mouths is aggressive. If your child has a cavity, the dentist will discuss his or her diet and oral hygiene routine with you to see if any adjustments need to be made.

Q: How do I prevent cavities?

A: Monitoring your child’s diet and overseeing their oral hygiene routine are the best things you can do to prevent cavities. Around the age of 6 or 7, most children have the manual dexterity to brush and floss properly, but until then, you should be helping them daily. A good rule of thumb is if your child cannot tie shoelaces independently, he or she should not be brushing independently either. In children who have a genetic predisposition to decay, the dentist may recommend a prescription toothpaste or fluoride to help prevent decay. Dental sealants are also recommended for most children on their 6 and 12 year molars.

Q: How are cavities on baby teeth fixed?

A: Cavities on baby teeth are just like cavities on permanent teeth, and when they’re caught early, they can be fixed with simple tooth-colored fillings. When they become large, they may require a crown, pulp therapy (like a baby root canal), or an extraction.

Q: If a cavity is on a baby tooth, do I have to fix it?

A: In most cases, the answer is yes. When left alone, most cavities will become bigger and start to cause pain, and treatment can change from a simple filling to something more invasive and cosmetically undesirable like a root canal with a stainless steel crown or an extraction. Sometimes if the dentist sees a cavity that is either very small or on a tooth that your child is likely to lose soon, he or she may decide to monitor the tooth instead of fixing it.