Laughing Gas 101

When people hear “sedation dentistry,” laughing gas is typically what first comes to mind. Nitrous oxide, its formal name, is commonly used as a mild sedative in many dental procedures. While you can’t see or smell the gas, it is very effective in helping patients relax quickly so that your treatment can be completed easily and effectively. Here’s a brief explanation about how laughing gas works and is used in many dental offices around the world.

What procedures is it used in?

Nitrous oxide can be used for any procedure where the patient may feel anxious, has a gag reflex that prevents some dental care, or cannot receive other forms of anesthesia. It is also often used with children who typically don’t tolerate dental procedures.

Are there any adverse effects?

Reactions from laughing gas are very rare, but they can occur in some patients. Usually, if too much laughing gas is administered or it is inhaled too rapidly, a patient may get a headache, feel hot or cold, feel nauseous or need to vomit, or can become very tired. Luckily, the administration of laughing gas is easily controlled, allowing your dentist to be certain the correct dosage is given.

How does nitrous oxide work?

A small mask is placed over the nose while the patient breathes normally. The patient does not fall asleep and remains responsive, able to speak with the dentist easily. The effects can usually be felt in just a few minutes and begin to wear off as soon as the mask is removed. Oxygen can be administered after the gas is discontinued to be sure the gas is fully out of the system, allowing the patient to leave on their own after the procedure is completed.

Are there any special steps to be taken in order to prepare for a treatment using laughing gas?

It is recommended that the patient has something on the stomach before the procedure, however a large meal is not advised. It is also important to discuss with your dentist when you might eat or drive following the procedure.

Is laughing gas safe to use on children?

Not only is it safe, it is actually the most commonly used form of sedation dentistry for kids. It is always recommended to discuss credentials and experience in the field of  sedation dentistry with your dentist prior to any procedure.

Is there anyone who should NOT receive laughing gas?

Nitrous oxide is not recommended for the following patients:

  • Women in the first trimester of pregnancy
  • Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Anyone with a history of substance abuse or mental health concerns are recommended to discuss this situation with their dentist prior to use.

Laughing gas has been used in sedation dentistry for nearly 175 years and has many benefits. It can be used for simple procedures, such as a routine cleaning, and has helped millions of patients overcome dental anxiety in order to receive much needed dental care. Talk with your dentist to find out whether nitrous oxide is a good fit for your next dental procedure.

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