Visiting the dentist can be an intimidating experience for children, and also for adults, whether or not the person has a special need. Some dentists have noticed that it is very difficult to treat patients who have special needs. They are asking insurers to cover the costs of using anesthesia when these patients visit the dentist.
A group of dentists in Pennsylvania are asking for something rather unusual, and a bit controversial. They want a state mandate to require all health insurance companies to cover the entire cost of using general anesthesia for a specific group of patients. The dentists want to be able to use anesthesia on patients, both adult and children, who have “mental disabilities” that prevent the patient from being able to tolerate dental work that is preformed while the person is awake.
When you look a little bit closer at what is being proposed, things become a little more questionable. The dentists want to use anesthesia as part of a typical visit to a dentist on all children who are age seven or younger. They also want anesthesia used on patients who are older than seven who have autism, Down Syndrome, or other developmental disabilities that would cause the patient to be unable to undergo dental work.
The dentist argue that this is a relatively small group of patients. They note that without the use of anesthesia, these patients often cannot receive preventative dental care (like an exam or a cleaning), and certainly cannot have other types of more serious dental work done. Obviously, this can cause further dental problems for these patients.
The dentists also note that the anxiety and agitation that this group of patients experience as a result of being at a dentist’s office, or having dental care preformed, is extremely high. This can override the typical pain or anxiety control measures that the dentist usually have available. If more of these patients were able to have their insurance companies pay for the use of anesthesia, then more of them could get the dental care they need, without having to experience anxiety.
On the other hand, we know the use of anesthesia comes with a certain amount of risk. There are people who just do not respond well to anesthesia, which could complicate things. Those that have heart problems, or issues with their circulation or nervous system have an increased risk of experiencing complications from the use of anesthesia. Anesthesia can cause death, and this happens to around 1 out of every 200,000 healthy people who are given anesthesia.
Would you allow your child to be given anesthesia in order to have his or her teeth cleaned? What if your child were autistic, had Down Syndrome, or other special needs that the dentists have pointed out? I think this would be an incredibly difficult decision for parents to be asked to make.
Image by Liz West on Flickr