Are you nervous about an upcoming dental procedure? If so, laughing gas, comprised of nitrogen and oxygen, may be just what the doctor ordered. This odorless and colorless gas, officially known as nitrous oxide or N2O, probably won’t make you giggle while you’re in your dentist’s chair. However, for those of you who get uptight or squeamish before or during dental treatment, this commonly used sedative and anti-anxiety agent can help promote a sense of relaxation, calm and general well-being.
Laughing gas is known for having very few side effects, and for this reason, can be used on patients of all ages. This gas is used both alone and in union with agents such as pain relievers and local anesthetics. Nitrous oxide laughing gas by itself is a form of what is often referred to as ‘conscious sedation.’ Although it will leave patients somewhat tired, those who opt for conscious sedation as their sole form of treatment will remain awake and responsive during the entire dental procedure.
Nitrous oxide laughing gas is a smart and widely used option for many smaller procedures such as the placement of a dental crown or the removal of wisdom teeth. In fact, the sedative effects of laughing gas wear off so quickly after discontinuation that you can drive home directly following its use. And, unlike most other forms of sedation dentistry, you can eat within 12 hours of the procedure.
Administering Laughing Gas: Breathe In, Breathe Out
The best part about laughing gas is that no needles are required for its administration. Instead, laughing gas is inhaled through a small rubber face mask. Your dental professional will adjust the amount of gas administered based on your individual need.
Contrary to popular belief, laughing gas is not a pain reliever. Dental procedures that require pain management necessitate the use of additional agents; your dental professional will prescribe and use these agents as-needed.
Also of note is the fact that laughing gas is never used to fully sedate a patient: The concentration needed to completely anesthetize a patient is close to the amount that would lower blood oxygen level to a point where a hazardous state of hypoxia (a condition in which there is a decrease in the oxygen supply to a tissue) results.
Are You a Good Candidate for Laughing Gas?
Although nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is a safe option for most dental patients, some considerations should be taken before undergoing this treatment. Make sure you discuss your full medical history with your dentist. If you fall into any of the groups listed below, thoroughly weigh the pros and cons of using laughing gas before opting to use this agent:
- History of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases
- Severe emotional issues
- Drug dependency
- First trimester of pregnancy
- Treatment with bleomycin sulfate (also known as blenoxane, this agent is used to treat cancer)
It should be noted that regardless of your situation, your dentist is there to help you make an informed decision.