I probably hear the comment, “No offense, but I hate dentists” at least twice per day, and I understand it. Going to the dentist can be a stressful experience. Dentistry is probably the only branch of medicine with a large surgical focus that does not routinely knock people out but rather just does local anesthesia or numbing to get the treatment completed. While numbing works really good, it still leaves you uncomfortable. While being fully knocked out is certainly an option for doing dentistry, insurance rarely covers it and it can add a lot of expense to the procedure. A great option for most people who are afraid of the dentist is laughing gas or nitrous oxide mixed with oxygen. I’d like to explain what laughing gas is, what it does, and answer some common questions that I get about it.
As mentioned before, laughing gas is nitrous oxide (NO2) and oxygen (O2) mixed together. This mixture typically ranges from 10 percent nitrous oxide and 90 percent oxygen to 50 percent nitrous oxide and 50 percent oxygen. Laughing gas is almost always given through a nose mask and the patient breathes though the nose while the dentist works on the mouth. The mask not only gives the patient the laughing gas but also suctions all the excess laughing gas out of the room so that it doesn’t affect anyone else. It takes a few minutes to take effect, and as soon as it is turned off, the laughing gas leaves the body within five minutes.
Laughing gas does two things. First, it raises the pain threshold so that things that would normally be uncomfortable are not uncomfortable. For example, with laughing gas, I can easily do a lot of treatment on a 4-year-old child. I’ve had plenty of children laugh the entire time while I’m getting them numb or doing a filling. On some children (and adults) with small cavities, I can get away with only using laughing gas and not giving any shots. This obviously isn’t always true, but it can be an advantage of using laughing gas. The second thing laughing gas does is it causes amnesia when used or in other words it makes you forget about the procedure. While not everyone experiences this the same way, it makes dentistry more pleasant for most people.
The final great thing about laughing gas is that it is a safe medicine to use. Many times when any form of sedation is used, the patient has to have someone drive them to and from the appointment. Because laughing gas leaves the body within five minutes, the patient is allowed to care for themselves after treatment. The way laughing gas makes a patient feel during treatment is also a pleasant experience. Little kids generally tell me that they feel like they are floating or swimming whereas teens tell me that they feel like they are about to fall asleep. My adult patients generally feel like they’ve had a few adult beverages in them. This experience helps make dentistry a bit better especially if you’ve had bad experiences in the past.
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I like to use laughing gas because so many people are candidates for it. While as with all medications, it can cause problems if misused or abused; however, when used appropriately, it is able to help people conquer their fear of the dentist. If you are worried about seeing the dentist and have been putting off your appointment because of your fear, please ask your dentist if laughing gas would be good for you. If you have any other questions about how laughing gas might help you, please give us a call or send us an email. We’d be happy to help you out.