Growth and development of infants and young children makes the cornerstone of his/her future personality. Conditions provided in the childhood and treatment procedures employed for the remedy of various health disorders have strong impact on neurological, psychological and physical development of children. Least invasive oral and dental treatment procedures with minimal mental and physical stress should be the mainstay of diseases management. Specialist pediatric care should be provided keeping in mind all the side effects of minor and major surgical procedures. Prevention of the disease process through mother education and reinforcement of oral hygiene measures remains the mainstay of management plan.
General anesthesia is often considered to be part of overall management of oral disorders in uncooperative and phobic children. No doubt general anesthesia provides comfort and unimpeded field of operation to the dental and oral health care professional but it has severe side effects on the physical, intelligence and language development of the infants and small children. It has been established through evidence based studies that children below four years of age who went under general anesthesia for treatment procedures have suffered brain damage leading to cognitive and language impairment in their adulthood. Such persons cannot perform up to the mark in their fields of occupation. It is recommended to avoid general anesthesia in infants and small children at all costs unless deemed extremely necessary.
In past research, Dr. Loepke and colleagues found that general anesthesia led to nerve cell death and cognitive impairment in mice and rats, which sparked concern about how general anesthesia may impact the human brain in early life – a crucial neurodevelopmental period.
As such, the team set out to assess how general anesthesia given to children undergoing surgery before the age of 4 years may affect brain structure, IQ and language development.
“The ultimate goal of our laboratory and clinical research is to improve safety and outcomes in young children who have no choice but to undergo surgery with anesthesia to treat their serious health concerns,” says Dr. Loepke.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was used to analyze the children’s brain structures, and the children were also required to complete IQ and language development tests, including the Oral and Written Language Scales and the Wechsler Intelligence Scale.
These findings remained after accounting for potential confounding factors, including children’s age, gender, socioeconomic status, left or right handedness, the type of surgery performed and the length of exposure to anesthetics.
According to the researchers, the lower IQ scores identified among children who received general anesthesia for surgery is the equivalent to a potential loss of around a 5-6 IQ points.
General anesthesia affects intelligence and language development