What is Laughing Gas?
Dental anxiety is a real concern for adults and children alike. A single bad experience as a child can create a bad impression of trips to the dentist — an unpleasant start to oral hygiene habits. Modern dentistry is actually essentially painless, but it is still intimidating for many people. Nitrous oxide — better known as laughing gas — not only lessens pain, it can create a positive and comfortable experience without anxiety, and it gives you an option that it wears off almost immediately after the mask is removed.
What is nitrous oxide?
So-called laughing gas is a chemical compound made of two nitrogen molecules bonded to an oxygen atom. At room temperature, nitrous oxide is a gas this is colorless and not flammable. As well as lessening pain, laughing gas creates a sense of calm and well-being, a welcome sensation for those who feel anxious about dental procedures.
How does laughing gas work?
The most commonly employed technique used in conscious sedation dentistry is inhalation sedation with nitrous oxide and oxygen (N20-02) or “laughing gas”. It is estimated that approximately 35% of U.S. dentists use this technique to relieve pain and dental anxiety.
The goal sought when laughing gas is used is to eliminate dental anxiety, making the patient more comfortable while the sedation dentist is able to more effectively complete the planned dental care procedure while the patient is sedated.
A small rubber inhaler will be placed over the patient’s nose and adjusted so that the patient is comfortable. At this time, the patient will be breathing 100% oxygen.
Some patients at their first laughing gas visit will feel that they are not getting enough “air.” The patient should tell the sedation dentist and he or she will provide them with even more oxygen to breathe.
Once the patient is comfortable breathing oxygen, the sleep dentist gradually will introduce nitrous oxide. Over the next three to five minutes, the patient will be asked, “What are you feeling?” as the amount of nitrous oxide is slowly increased.
The signs and symptoms that most patients experience when receiving laughing gas include an initial feeling of lightheadedness, which gradually leads to an all-over feeling of warmth. Many persons mention a comfortable “vibrating” or “humming” sensation. It is common to feel one’s fingertips and hands become “numb.”
This same sensation may develop in the mouth – a benefit to the sedation dentist (and patient) during the dental care treatment. Some patients will mention that their arms and legs feel “very light.” Interestingly, other patients will say that their arms and legs feel “so heavy I can’t even move them.”
If either of these occurs to the patient, it is perfectly normal. The individual might notice that they are perspiring a little, too. This is a normal effect of nitrous oxide and oxygen dentistry.
The sedation dentist will talk with the patient throughout the dental care procedure and the individual will be able to respond without any problem. This is a major advantage, and a safety feature, of conscious sedation using laughing gas.
If, at any time during the procedure, the patient feels that they are getting too much nitrous oxide or if they begin to feel uncomfortable, they should tell the dentist immediately and within seconds the dentist can adjust the flow of gases, and the patient will feel more comfortable again.
At the conclusion of the sedation dentistry treatment, the patient will once again receive 100% oxygen (for a minimum of three to five minutes). At the end of this time, the person should feel absolutely back to normal. If they still feel even a little bit sedated, the dentist should give the patient oxygen for a few more minutes.
Most dentists permit the fully-recovered laughing gas patient to leave the dental office unescorted and to resume their normal activities. In some situations where a patient recovers more slowly, they might be required to have an escort (friend or relative) drive them home.
What are the cons of laughing gas?
Not everyone is comfortable with the feelings that nitrous oxide creates. Some people are more prone to nausea, while others aren’t sedated enough at the concentrations used for dental procedures. Laughing gas is administered through a mask that fits over your nose, so if you have a cold or if you predominantly breathe through your mouth, inhaling through your nose isn’t an option.
The breathing mask could also make you or your child a little claustrophobic. That sensation usually passes once the effects of the laughing gas begin.
The benefits of using nitrous oxide to ease anxiety over dental procedures vastly outweigh the potential drawbacks. If you or your child worries about the dental care experience, laughing gas may be just the breath of fresh air you need.
Fact: There Are Different Levels of Sedation Dentistry Available
With minimal sedation, patients are awake but relaxed.
Administered through a mask placed over your nose—much like an oxygen mask—nitrous oxide will begin to make you feel relaxed very quickly. You will be fully conscious throughout your procedure.
Once the mask is taken away, the nitrous leaves your system just as quickly as it entered.
Other sedation options available include oral sedation, where you are conscious but in a dream-like state. You may doze off during the procedure. General anesthesia renders you completely unconscious for the procedure.
Fact: Laughing Gas Has Been Around for Many Years
Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, use in dentistry can be traced all the way back to the 19th century!
Fact:Laughing Gas Is Useful for More Than Just Anxiety about the Dentist
As great as sedation dentistry is for quelling anxious feelings, it has other uses at the dentist as well, including treatment of:
- Patients who are undergoing several extensive treatments at once
- Patients who have a sensitive gag reflex
- Patients who have trouble sitting still in the dentist chair
- Patients who are young or unable to cooperate
Fact:Laughing Gas Is Safe
Laughing Gas is safe. Dentists continually monitor patients who are undergoing sedation dentistry. The dentist will also conduct a thorough check of a patient’s medical history before recommending sedation dentistry.
Laughing gas inhalation sedation is highly effective in the management of mild to moderate levels of dental anxiety. It also is an excellent technique in persons who are extreme gaggers; laughing gas usually eliminates or minimizes gagging in most patients.
Finally, laughing gas is highly recommended for apprehensive patients who have medical problems such as angina pectoris, persons who have had a heart attack, or persons with high blood pressure, asthma or epilepsy.
Inhalation sedation dentistry should not be used with persons who are claustrophobic or with persons who are unable to breathe through their nose.