You might have heard nitrous oxide referred to as “laughing gas,” but if you think it means you’re going to get the giggles while in the dentist’s chair, don’t worry – that’s not how it works. What it does do, however, is allow people who might be resistant to receiving dental care due to fear to get the treatment that they need without the overwhelming anxiety that might otherwise keep them from having a healthy mouth. You know that you should have regular dental treatment, and with nitrous oxide, it’s easier – the process is called “conscious sedation,” and it’s a way of lowering your stress level to the point that not only is your treatment stress-free, once it’s over, you might not even remember it!
Nitrous oxide has been used for almost a hundred years, for various medical applications. It’s a colorless gas that has a barely perceptible sweet smell, and it really doesn’t deserve the term “laughing gas.” As we’ve stated, it’s used for conscious sedation, so you’ll be awake while you’re being treated. It’s safe, effective, and when it’s used in conjunction with a local anesthetic like Novocain, not only will you not feel pain, you’ll be totally relaxed. Your bodily functions will remain normal, the effects will wear off quickly, and while you’re under the influence of nitrous oxide, you’ll experience a sensation of well-being while your dental work is being done.
How is it Administered?
Nitrous oxide is administered through inhalation – your dentist will provide you with a mask that you’ll place over your nose in order to inhale the gas – for dental-phobic patients, placing the mask over the nose is likely to be the most stressful part of the whole procedure, but it’s not uncomfortable and really nothing to fear. A machine mixes the gas with oxygen, and while it’s being delivered, both the nitrous oxide and the oxygen are kept at safe levels. Very quickly, you’ll begin to feel as if you’re floating, and you might also feel a bit of tingling in your feet and hands. That’s nothing to worry about; it just means that the sedation is working the way it should. Once you’ve received the proper dose, and you feel calm and ready to begin, your dentist can get to work.
Nitrous oxide doesn’t replace a local anesthetic. For most procedures, you’re still going to require freezing, which means, of course, a needle – and this is where many dental patients become very anxious. The big difference is that getting the needle won’t bother you. Don’t worry about loss of control, either – you’re not going to be asleep; you’ll be fully aware of what’s happening and able to speak up just as much as you could without the sedation. The dose can even be customized to provide as much or as little sedation as you require.
Once your dental work is completed, the nitrous oxygen will be reduced until it reaches a zero level. The level of oxygen may also be increased, and within a few minutes, you’ll be essentially back to normal – you’ll even be able to drive yourself home. Some patients compare the experience to the way they feel when they’ve had a drink or two, but without a hangover.
If your anxiety would ordinarily prevent you from getting the dental treatment you need, then you can definitely benefit from the conscious sedation nitrous oxide offers. To be sure that you’re a suitable candidate, we’ll ask you about your medical history, including any prescription or over-the-counter drugs you might be taking. If you’re using certain medications, if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or if you are pregnant, nitrous oxide many not be the proper course of action. Generally speaking, though, anyone who finds dental visits overwhelmingly stressful should talk to us about the benefits of conscious sedation using nitrous oxide.
Text Copyright © 2015 Louis K. Cheung DDS PS – All rights reserved. Images used under license from Dear Doctor, Inc.