The thought of going to the dentist is enough to stir a bit of anxiety in most people, but for some the fear of being seen is too strong, causing them to neglect their oral health altogether. One of the ways dental professionals have helped ease the concerns of their patients is by administering nitrous oxide (commonly known as laughing gas) prior to beginning an operation.
While some individuals do indeed get a bit loopy after inhaling the chemical (which is safe for people of all ages), in most cases it acts as a mild sedative and anti-anxiety agent. It is intended to help nervous patients calm down, thus making the experience easier for the person in the chair and for the one performing the job, whether that is an extraction, an implant, or a root canal.
Benefits of Nitrous Oxide…Why it’s So Popular
- The main advantage nitrous oxide has over other available sedatives is its minimal amount of side effects. As such, it can safely be used in children, the elderly, and individuals with existing health conditions, and often in conjunction with localized anesthetics and/or pain relieving medication.
- Instead of causing patients to go unconscious, which should only occur when a major operation is being performed, laughing gas puts one into a state of “sedated awareness.” You still have full control of your body and are responsive to your doctor’s orders, but will feel completely relaxed throughout the procedure.
Ease of Application and Use
Given the relatively quick lifespan nitrous oxide has while in patients (the effects typically wear off within a couple of hours), it is the go-to choice for rather simple procedures like wisdom teeth extraction and the insertion of dental crowns. You can resume eating 12 hours following the procedure, contrary to the average 24 with most other sedatives.
For those squeamish of needles, laughing gas comes as much relief. It is administered via a small rubber mask that fits over the patient’s nose and mouth. A few, normal inhales is all it takes for the effects to kick in; your dentist will gauge the proper amount of nitrous oxide depending on how much you need (e.g. body weight, severity of anxiety, etc.).
One of the common misconceptions about laughing gas is that it is a pain reliever. This is not the case, however, which is why additional anesthetic and chemical agents are used in procedures where pain management is deemed necessary. Full sedation never occurs with nitrous oxide either, as the risks of a patient developing hypoxia (a condition where unsafe levels of oxygen are entering the bloodstream and tissues) is greatly increased when he or she is induced into a complete, anesthetic state.