With the current move in childhood medicine away from a disease-centered approach to a child-centered approach, an interest in involving children in all aspects of their medical care has emerged. This requires healthcare providers to listen to children’s (and families’) opinions regarding illness, treatment, and health services. Dental treatment under general anesthesia (DTGA) is a common yet problematic (due to cost and safety concerns) approach for managing severe dental caries in children. The purpose of this qualitative inquiry was to explore children’s and caregivers’ experiences of having DTGA, with a focus on emotional and psychological impacts of DTGA from the child’s perspective. Three semi-structured in-person interviews, telephone interviews, video diaries, drawings, and a questionnaire were used to gain further understanding of child patients’ experiences of DTGA as they move through the stages of health, illness, treatment, and recovery. The study was designed from a phenomenological perspective, and thematic analysis was used to analyze the data, allowing themes to arise naturalistically from the data without bias or elicitation. The children’s drawings were analyzed using Child Drawing: Hospital Manual and Vygotsky postulations for context reading. The findings from 12 children (mean age 6.1 years) and their 13 caregivers (12 mothers and 1 father, mean age 33.6 years) indicated that DTGA is a “scary” procedure from the perspectives of both children and their caregivers. The caregivers wished they would not have to go through that “hard route.” Children did not find the use of the anesthetic "gas" and "balloon," instead of needles helpful but rather found them “stink” and “weird.” The feeling of guilt and the hope to not go through the experience again fueled at least short-term compliance with brushing, flossing, and “cutting down on” the consumption of sugar, "pops," and “junk” food. The caregivers appreciated managing the child’s whole dental problem in a single setting, the humane nature of the surgical staff, and the short wait time to get an appointment for the surgery. As the study revealed that the DTGA is psychologically and emotionally troubling for both children and their caregivers, it is imperative to explore ways to ease the GA experience. Specific recommendations were provided for optimizing dental and health services for those children and their families. Children as young as three can meaningfully participate in their surgical care pathway, along with their caregivers and healthcare providers. As children provided insights about their own dental and medical experiences that have scarcely been previously described, future research should fully incorporate children’s perspectives into the evaluation of dental and medical services. Creative activities used here as research tools, such as drawings and video or audio diaries, could be included in future research.

A Drawing Completed by a Child Prior to DTGA

Child's pre-operative drawing depicted mother’s description in which we can see a needle, a dental mirror, and a dental air-water syringe, all drawn in black, which is considered to indicate higher levels of anxiety.

A Drawing Completed by a Child Prior to DTGA

Child's pre-operative drawing depicted mother’s description in which we can see a needle, a dental mirror, and a dental air-water syringe, all drawn in black, which is considered to indicate higher levels of anxiety.

Close modal

A Drawing Completed by a Child after DTGA

The post-op drawing depicts the GA induction experience: the mask, the balloon, and the surgical scrubs.

A Drawing Completed by a Child after DTGA

The post-op drawing depicts the GA induction experience: the mask, the balloon, and the surgical scrubs.

Close modal