Autism and Anesthesia: How Keep Your Child Safe at the Dentist

On March 10, 2017, an autistic boy died after getting a dental procedure, Fox News reported. Mykel Peterson, age 4, was administered anesthesia in the form of Ketamine, a common form. The boy was given an additional dose during the procedure by the anesthesiologist to ensure he did not wake up. In this case, autism and anesthesia may have been a life-threatening combination.

autism and anesthesia

This family has my deepest condolences. It’s heartbreaking that a child can lose his life over what should be a simple medical procedure, but the way the medical community treats autism as merely a behavioral issues helps me be all too aware of the dangers.

Autism and Anesthesia

If you have an autistic child, this should give you chills. That’s because you know, just as we were recently informed, that your child will mostly likely need anesthesia to have a complete dental visit. Our kids can’t sit while their mouths are poked and prodded, while their teeth are cleaned and photographed, and surely not for any procedures. He will naturally need it for any possible surgical procedures too.

In fact, this strikes home because we were just told by a holistic dentist that we’d need to bring our daughter elsewhere to get anesthesia to do a true exam. They were not equipped, and she was not cooperative. Naturally, as a mom who raises her child in a nontoxic way, I’m terrified of what might happen to her. Hearing the story of Mykel’s death did not help.

Why Kids With Autism React To Anesthesia

It turns out that there’s a lot of reasons why our kids can react negatively to the different forms of this drug. Doctors, dentists and healthcare providers may not be aware of the underlying pathways that lead to autism and/or sensory issues. This is part of the continuing problem with viewing autism as strictly genetic and having little to no environmental causes. The fact is that without understanding the actual causes of autism, it will be difficult to safeguard your child. If practitioners insist on viewing this issue as strictly behavioral, our kids will suffer. Let’s look at what one expert had to say on the matter.

Autism One Research Article: Anesthesia and ASD

Written by Sym C. Rankin, RN, CRNA, a practicing anesthetist for over 25 years and the mother of a child “on the road to recovery from autism,” this article addresses the issue of the rising need for anesthesia and why autism and anesthesia don’t mix. Some of the patients that can be negatively impacted by exposure to anesthesia include:

  • children who are on stimulant or antipsychotic drugs
  • those with biochemical issues that increase the chance of toxic insult
  • people with methylation issues (Put very simplistically, methylation is important in allowing your body to naturally detox all the toxic items that would normally safely and quickly exit our bodies. Dysfunction in in this area can leave harmful levels of toxins in the body.)
  • people with a defect in the MTHFR gene
  • those with certain allergies, depending on the type of anesthesia used
  • those with mitochondrial disease

Rankin has recommendations for the safest way to deal with autism and anesthesia, although there will always be risks for certain patients. The article is a very good and fairly easy science read. Learn more and watch a video with Rankin discussing this issue at Thinking Moms Revolution. Additional articles for your doctor are linked there as well.

Other Related Conditions and Anesthesia

If your health providers are not aware of methylation issues, don’t know what the MTHFR gene does or do not give heed to mitochondrial diseases, your child can be at risk. You should know that kids with autism are not the only ones with this mutation. People who have Down syndrome, spina bifida, congenital heart defects, and other birth defects as well as numerous diseases, may have this mutation. Learn more at and read this article by Dr. Jill C. Carnahan, MD, ABFM, ABIHM, IFMCP.

For more information on the effect of anesthesia on autism for those with mitochondrial disorders, read this detailed PDF from MitoAction. It provides a list of risk factors including a history of seizures and preoperative respiratory problems, to name a few. Their website has lots of information, including forms and protocols, should your child have a mito condition. Head over and enter “Anesthesia” in their search box.

Other Possible Dangers of Dental Care

Here are some things about dental care that you should know up front. You might not have heard of these issues before:

  1. Amalgams are full of mercury. Still. Not only that, but only amalgams may be fully covered by Medicaid and possibly even your insurance. You DO NOT WANT your child to have mercury in their mouth for the duration of their lives. Amalgams give off vapors and can be extremely harmful to a child who cannot properly methylate. In researching whether amalgams are safe, I found that Dr. Mercola says “no!”, Dr. Oz says, “Maybe but we need more studies” and the FDA, of course says, “They are safe.” However, they also say that the mercury vapors that amalgams release bioaccumulate (that is, pile up) in the brain and the kidneys. Their studies have not linked that to organ damage, but if your child cannot methylate properly, do you want mercury vapors being released in his mouth?
  2. Root canals are iffy. Hopefully your child won’t need one, but if you have an older child it’s possible. There’s no good answer to whether or not they are safe. However, Wellness Mama (a FAVORITE blog of mine) lists all the science of the pros and cons of root canals, as well as what options you have.
  3. X-rays. This is one area where health practitioners seem to play fast and loose with our safety even though we are being exposed to radiation. The good news is that the latest technology means you don’t have to retake and RETAKE, exposing you to more and more radiation. And this process should be done rarely. The American Dental Association says every 2-3 years, but my dentist said 3-5 years. Even then, I’ve read it should be done with good reason. WebMD, in fact, reported a rise in brain tumors and linked it to dental X-rays being taken too frequently, like every year.
  4. Fluoride. I’ve written about the dangers of fluoride. and in today’s market, there are lots of options for fluoride-free effective dental products. You might want to see if your dentist has a fluoride-free option, especially if your child has fluorosis (fluoride poisoning).

 What To Do Before Taking Your Autistic Child to The Dentist

As scary as all this sounds, there are things you can do to ensure that your child gets the appropriate dental care he needs. Autism and anesthesia need not bump heads if you plan in advance. Here is what I’m going to do next:

  • Find your child a holistic whole body provider, such as a naturopath, chiropractor, D.O., etc. Ok, so you’re wondering what the heck that has to do with dental care, right? Well, everything in fact! You want to make sure that you have a holistic provider who can diagnose mitochondrial disease, MTHFR gene mutation and more. Get an opinion from someone informed in the latest science.
  • Find a high quality holistic dentist. I’m coming to believe that not all dentists are equal, even the holistic ones. Trust your gut. Better yet, find a local mama who’s “in the know” about these things to guide you. Plan distance travel if you need to.
  • Forward dental records to minimize X-rays. If you’re changing dentists, they might want their own set. You can say no to that. It’s true your child’s mouth is growing and changing, so consider carefully how long it has been since the last X-ray and any other major changes.
  • Completely update your dentist. Make sure your dental care provider is aware of all your child’s allergies, medications, sensitivities and anything you know about his biomedical and biochemical history.
  • Prepare your child beforehand. Preparing your child before your first visit will go a long way to ensuring a visit that is not traumatic. (I was going to say “pleasant” but that’s not realistic. I mean, I HATE going myself!) Read my tips for getting your child on board with a trip to the dentist.
  • Have a detox plan. After any procedures that require medication, anesthesia, even X-rays, you should detox your child afterward. If your autistic child is already on a protocol such as homeopathy, start there. I always recommend checking with a trusted health professional who knows your child’s medical issues well before starting any protocol or detox. Meanwhile, MindBodyGreen has some detox suggestion in “5 Ways to Bounce Back After Anesthesia.”

Finding a Holistic Dentist

If you’re worried about the the autism-and-anesthesia link impairing your child, you need to find a holistic dentist. This won’t be easy and may involve some trial and error. If you don’t have a trusted local person to advise you, you have other options. Another favorite blogger, Mommypotamus, has a guide to finding a holistic dentist. She even offers an alternative solution to X-rays! Check out her list of resources to find a dentist. I’m off to find a dentist of our own.

Mixing autism and anesthesia doesn’t have to be life-threatening if you take precautions and wisely seek counsel and knowledgable dentists for your child’s conditions.

  1. Wow, I had no clue that anesthesia had an effect on children with autism. It’s definitely to be careful with any surgery, especially with children so young. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Heather! Yes, this is have to be so careful with everything kids take in, especially if they have sensitivities. You also have to be aware when they are young and you don’t know about an issue they might have! You’re welcome. (I’m sorry, I missed your comment sooner.)

    • Yes, I understand that. The problem is that some doctors aren’t aware of newly discovered medical issues such as mitochondrial disorders. I would definitely want a doctor that understand autism, anesthesia and nuanced medical issues to safeguard my children.