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Laughing Gas for Patients who Fear the Dentist

Some individuals avoid going to the dentist as they fear the sound of the drill, the pain they believe they may experience, and more. However, people of all ages cannot ignore their oral health, as doing so could negatively affect their overall health. Fortunately, dentists understand this fear and offer ways to combat it so a person can get the care they need.

Laughing gas remains a popular option with many patients. What is laughing gas or nitrous oxide? Who benefits from its use? Does the use of the laughing gas come with any risks? These questions and more need answers to allow individuals to feel comfortable visiting the dentist once again.

What is Laughing Gas?

Laughing gas or nitrous oxide (N2O) in dentistry serves as a safe and effective sedative for individuals who fear the dentist. The dentistry team mixes this gas with oxygen and the patient inhales the mixture through a small mask fitted over the nose. Patients find they relax and allow the dentist to do the required work with the help of this aid.

Patients do not sleep when laughing gas is used. They hear what is going on around them and can respond to questions posted by the dentist or dental assistants. However, they feel no pain and they aren’t anxious as the dentist carries out the work. Patients breathe normally as they take in the mixture and feel the effects almost immediately.

People often want to know if they will act out of character when laughing gas for dental procedures is used. While the combination makes a person feel less inhibited by slowing their nervous system, they feel comfortable knowing they are simply more relaxed. Some patients state they feel light-headed or experience a tingling sensation, while others say their arms and legs feel heavy. However, they remain calm and comfortable as the dentist does their work.

Why Use Laughing Gas?

Patients must understand the benefits of laughing gas for cavity filling and other dental procedures when determining if this option meets their needs. This sedation method remains safe and effective and works quickly in the person’s system. Once the dentist finishes, the mixture coming through the mask goes to pure oxygen, allowing the effects of the nitrous oxide to wear off rapidly.

The dentist controls the amount of sedation being delivered to the patient at all times. This method remains very safe, allowing it to be used for a wide range of patients. In addition, the gas comes through the mask, eliminating the need for needles. Individuals who fear having a shot appreciate this option being open to them.

The patient feels no anxiety when a dentist uses laughing gas. Furthermore, the mixture kills pain, which men and women state is one reason they avoid the dentist. They fear the pain that may accompany their dental. Finally, the patient feels euphoric throughout the procedure, something very few people experience when visiting a dentist. 

Most people find they can drive themselves home after a dentist administers laughing gas. However, patients need to talk with their dentist to learn what they need to do after they have been sedated during a dental procedure. The dentist knows the patient and can provide the most accurate information regarding the use of nitrous oxide and what a patient should expect.

Side Effects

Most individuals have no side effects from laughing gas. However, the skill of the dentist plays a role in the success of any procedure involving the use of nitrous oxide. When nitrous oxide levels climb rapidly or the amount of nitrous oxide being delivered changes quickly, the patient may experience adverse side effects. This includes shivering, vomiting, nausea, sleepiness, headaches, and excessive sweating.

However, some side effects remain common with the administration of laughing gas. This includes mental confusion and limbs that feel heavy, as mentioned above. To prevent headaches, dentists need to provide patients with oxygen for a minimum of five minutes upon discontinuation of the nitrous oxide mixture. The oxygen removes any gas that remains in the lungs and returns the patient to an alert and awake state. Furthermore, patients need to consume a small meal prior to the administration of the laughing gas and wait a minimum of three hours after discontinuation of the gas to eat a big meal.

Who Benefits From the Use of Laughing Gas?

Patients with a phobia of the dentist benefit from the use of laughing gas, as do those who remain uncooperative when in the dentist’s chair. Anyone with special health care needs should speak to their dentist about this sedation option, and the same holds for those who have a gag reflex that interferes with their ability to get dental treatment. If a patient doesn’t respond to local anesthesia, the dentist might recommend laughing gas, and dental practices often use the gas for young children who need a lengthy procedure to improve their oral health.

When Should Patients Avoid Laughing Gas?

Certain people need to consider other sedation options, as laughing gas isn’t right for their situation. For instance, women need to avoid laughing gas during the first trimester of pregnancy, and those with a history of respiratory illnesses must consider other sedation options. Anyone with a vitamin B-12 deficiency and those who have a history of substance abuse need to share this information with their dentist to determine the best sedation option for their specific situation. Any person suffering from methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency, an enzyme condition, must look at other sedation options, and men and women with a history of medical conditions need to speak with their dentist to determine which sedation option is appropriate.

Countless patients benefit from the use of laughing gas during a dental procedure. Anyone who fears visiting the dentist or the pain that may accompany certain dental treatments will find laughing gas helps them get the care they need in a timely manner. If you believe laughing gas will allow you to feel more calm and relaxed during your next visit, speak to the dental team. They will be happy to discuss all options with you and recommend the best course of action to ensure you get the care you need to keep your teeth and gums healthy.