Background. Pain control in dental treatment for children is very important. The purpose of this study is to describe the characteristics of local anesthetic use by pediatric dentists and to examine factors related to its effectiveness in children. Methods. The authors observed 361 patients in 17 pediatric dental practices in Washington state while each child received restorative or surgical dental treatment. The authors recorded data concerning local anesthetic use and effectiveness. The children's mean age was 87 months, and 181 (50.1 percent) of the patients were girls. A pediatric dentist observer rated each child's anxiety before the initial injection of local anesthetic and the effectiveness of pain control during restorative treatment. The observing dentist asked the treating dentist about the effectiveness of pain control after completion of treatment. Results. Forty-two of 361 children (11.6 percent) were observed to experience ineffective pain control. Fourteen of 17 dentists (82.4 percent) were observed to have at least one patient in whom pain control was ineffective. Lidocaine (2 percent with 1:100,000 epinephrine) was used by 15 of 17 dentists (88.2 percent) and in 312 of 361 cases (86.4 percent). The average amount of agent was one cartridge (36 milligrams of lidocaine). Children who were anxious, who had symptoms before treatment, and who underwent more invasive operative and endodontic procedures were more likely to experience ineffective pain control. Conclusions. The data suggest that painful treatment is relatively frequent even in specialized pediatric practice. Variability in general practice is likely to be greater. Clinical Implications. The incidence of ineffective pain control may be less if clinicians use methods to reduce anxiety and perioperative infection and symptoms.
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