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Laughing Gas Dentistry

Up to 20% of Americans experience dental anxiety so severe that it causes them to neglect their oral health. That’s a serious problem, especially for people who are putting off necessary dental procedures. The good news is, modern dentistry offers plenty of solutions for anxious patients who need some help dealing with their anxiety.

Using laughing gas is one of the safest and most effective ways to ensure patients’ comfort and reduce dental anxiety during essential procedures. Read on to find out everything patients need to know about laughing gas for dental procedures.

What Is Laughing Gas?

Laughing gas is a colloquial term for nitrous oxide, a sedative that can be mixed with oxygen and inhaled through a mask to help patients relax. The great thing about laughing gas is that it doesn’t put patients to sleep. Instead, it makes them feel more comfortable by reducing anxiety, killing pain, and inducing a state of euphoria. Patients will still be able to hear directions and respond to questions while they’re in the dentist’s chair.

How Does Laughing Gas Work?

Laughing gas starts working almost immediately, so dentists administer it when their patients arrive for appointments. The dentist will begin by placing a small mask on the patient’s face. The patient breathes normally through his or her nose until the laughing gas begins to take effect. It may take a few minutes to get the dosage right, but the good thing about laughing gas is that it’s very easy to titrate doses to each patient’s needs.

After the laughing gas takes effect, some people experience lightheadedness or tingling sensations in their arms or legs. Others feel like their extremities are getting heavy. Many people get cases of the giggles, as well, which explains the name. All of these side effects stem from the primary action of nitrous oxide as a sedative. The gas displaces some of the air in patients’ lungs, preventing it from entering the bloodstream and impacting brain activity.

The effects of nitrous oxide start wearing off 30 seconds to two minutes after patients’ masks are removed. Dentists need to administer the gas continuously to keep their patients’ comfortably sedated throughout their procedures.

Is Laughing Gas Safe?

The use of laughing gas in medicine dates back to the late 1700s, so modern dentists, doctors, and researchers have over two centuries of evidence that laughing gas is generally safe and effective. This popular sedative is much safer than anesthesia. It does not pose a risk to patients’ brains or vital organs.

The only true danger associated with laughing gas is disorientation, which can cause patients to fall if they try to get out of the dentist’s chair too early. The disorientation wears off almost immediately when patients start breathing normally without their masks, so dentists recommend just sitting tight for 3-5 minutes after the mask is removed. Once the effects wear off, patients can even drive themselves home from their appointments without worrying about any lingering effects.

What Are the Side Effects of Laughing Gas?

The reason nitrous oxide in dentistry is so popular is that most patients experience minimal side effects beyond feeling less anxious and more euphoric. Mental confusion is common, but it wears off with the primary effects of the sedative around two minutes after the dentist removes the mask. Less common side effects of laughing gas include leg pain, nausea, headaches, excessive sweating, sleepiness, and, rarely, mild hallucinations.

It’s also worth noting that around 10% of people do not respond to laughing gas. Anyone who has tried laughing gas for cavity filling or other essential dental procedures and experienced adverse reactions should bring them up with the dentist. There may be other alternatives for reducing anxiety that don’t require anesthesia or full sedation.

Who Can Benefit From Laughing Gas Dentistry?

Since nitrous oxide is much safer than anesthetics, there are fewer restrictions on who will be able to get this treatment. Anyone who experiences dental anxiety may be eligible provided they do not experience severe claustrophobia or have underlying medical conditions like chronically blocked nasal passages that preclude its use. Even pediatric patients are often given laughing gas to help combat dental anxiety.

Not all patients need laughing gas to undergo dental procedures, and not all dentists offer laughing gas. Before the procedure, dentists will ask their patients questions about their medical histories and previous experiences with sedation. They’ll be most likely to recommend nitrous oxide for patients who:

  • Experience dental anxiety
  • Have low pain thresholds
  • Have extremely sensitive teeth
  • Need a lot of dental work
  • Have overactive gag reflexes
  • Can’t sit still in the dentist’s chair

People who want laughing gas before their procedures should look for a painless dentist who has experience working with anxious patients. It may be harder to find a pediatric dentist who can administer nitrous oxide.

How to Prepare

Those who want to use laughing gas during dental procedures may need to find a special dentist for nervous patients who has the training and equipment to administer nitrous oxide. Expect to attend an initial consultation before the dental procedure. During this appointment, the dentist will evaluate whether the patient is a good candidate for laughing gas dentistry and explain what to expect.

Unlike general anesthesia, using laughing gas requires very little preparation and even less of a recovery period. Some dentists recommend fasting for an hour or two before the appointment to reduce nausea, but otherwise, patients can prepare for their appointments as usual and, in most cases, can even plan to drive themselves home when their procedures are finished.

Schedule an Appointment Today

Looking for a dentist that can administer nitrous oxide and work with nervous patients to resolve their dental anxiety? Don’t just search for dentists that use laughing gas near me and choose the first one that comes up. Work with a dental office that specializes in treating anxious patients where dentists, hygienists, and office staff will all work together to make the experience as painless as possible. Call to schedule an appointment today.