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Nitrous Oxide: Taking in the Benefits of Laughing Gas


Nitrous oxide first appeared in the late 1700s. But it wasn't until 1844 that dentists finally used laughing gas to ease painful procedures when American dentist Horace Wells asked a colleague to pull his infected tooth while he inhaled nitrous oxide. Wells was so impressed with the minimized pain that he decided to demonstrate its use officially - to physicians and medical students in Boston.

Dental patients in the 21st century are still laughing - with relief - thanks to Wells. Laughing gas dentists use this sedation method for simple tooth extractions, root canals, dental inlays, oral surgery procedures and more.

Laughing Gas: How Sweet Is That Air, Anyway?

Nitrous Oxide – Why you can relax with laughing gas.

While inhaling nitrous oxide, you might feel warm, pleasant and relaxed, along with lightness in the limbs - others describe a weighted feeling.

Aside from its long track record of success, laughing gas dentists still sweeten the air for several other reasons:

  1. Nitrous oxide is safe and easy. Dentists, hygienists, and in some states, dental assistants, may raise your pain threshold with conscious sedation laughing gas. Many states require board certifications for hygienists and assistants, but others do not. All states require a dentist's supervision.
  2. It has dose versatility. Your nitrous oxide dentist or hygienist will raise the gas level incrementally and monitor your responses. Other oral sedation methods tend to come in set dosages.
  3. Laughs come fast and then they're gone. Nitrous oxide takes effect within minutes and lasts for as long as you're inhaling. And once your laughing gas dentist turns the nitrous oxide off, he or she flushes your lungs with oxygen to leave them 99 percent nitrous oxide free within minutes, according to RDH Magazine. Just try bouncing back that quickly from the effects of heavier sedation. Once laughing gas clears your system you should be able to drive yourself home.
  4. It reduces pain and anxiety. Maybe the first is obvious, but when it comes to painful dental procedures like an impacted wisdom tooth extraction, it doesn't hurt (pun sadly intended!) to remember the reason you're undergoing nitrous oxide sedation in the first place. (Though laughing gas does reduce pain, it may not control it completely. Your laughing gas dentist may administer a local anesthetic too.) And if you're one of those people paranoid about dental work, the fact that laughing gas helps your dental anxiety evaporate means a faster, more comfortable dental procedure or oral surgery. You and your nitrous oxide dentist both benefit when you're not anxious.
  5. Nitrous oxide is generally safe for all ages. Have a child or parent with dental fears? Laughing gas could be the solution for everyone from timid tykes to anxious adults. Your child should be old enough to follow instructions, be unafraid of wearing a mask and be able to breathe through the nose.

Nitrous Oxide: When the Air Goes Slightly Sour

Laughing gas lives up to its name. Because of its euphoric effect, some people get the giggles, which might get a little embarrassing if you're a reserved person. On a serious note though, your nitrous oxide dentist will ask you not to eat a few hours before your procedure. Some patients feel nauseous from nitrous oxide, so fasting reduces incidents of vomiting. Others may get a slight headache.

Because of the mind-altering aspects of laughing gas (some people dream during their procedures, even though they are conscious and able to respond to questions and instructions), laughing gas dentists recommend certain people explore other forms of sedation dentistry, especially if they are:

  • Under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol
  • Suffering phobias
  • Unable to understand the procedure
  • Have mental illnesses

Others should ask a nitrous oxide dentist for more information if they are:

  • In the first trimester of pregnancy
  • Have sinus infections or nasal blockages
  • Recently underwent eye surgeries or tympanic membrane grafts
  • Taking prescription medications
  • Cystic fibrosis or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients

Recent studies, cited by the American Dental Association (ADA), show a possible link between nitrous oxide sedation and pneumonia, fever, severe nausea and infection. Complications occur after major medical surgeries in the studies, rather than dental procedures. The problems may relate to higher laughing gas to oxygen ratios used in those procedures - about a 70/30 percent mix. Dental patients typically get 50 percent or less nitrous oxide, according to the ADA. The studies are ongoing.

Getting Your Kicks While Kicking Out Decay

For most of us, nitrous oxide remains safe. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry suggests laughing gas may be the "safest sedative in dentistry".

Interested in finding a nitrous oxide dentist? Call us at 1-866-970-0441. We'll find a great laughing gas dentist or a specialist in pediatric dentistry to meet your specific needs.

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