Feeling apprehensive and anxious about going to the dentist? Nitrous oxide can help. About one-third of the dentists in the United States incorporate nitrous oxide into their practices.
Also known as laughing gas, nitrous oxide is a gas that creates a calming effect and reduces pain sensitivity when inhaled. Since the 1840s, it has been used by dentists to calm nervous patients.
Nitrous oxide is administered to patients through a mask placed over the nose. The dentist instructs the patient to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth as the level of nitrous oxide slowly is increased.
Many patients begin to feel light-headed as the gas is administered, followed by feeling warm all over. It is also common for patients to feel some numbness in their mouth and even into their hands. All of these sensations are normal.
A major advantage for the dentist is that throughout the process, the patient remains alert enough to respond to the dentist when necessary.
At the end of the dental procedure, the dentist turns off the nitrous oxide and has the patient breathe pure oxygen for a few minutes until the nitrous oxide’s effects have worn off. The patient is able to function normally once again within minutes of the nitrous oxide being discontinued.
Although most patients who are given nitrous oxide suffer no ill effects, high doses can cause nausea. Nitrous oxide does not work for about 10 percent of patients. People with clogged nasal passages typically are not good candidates for nitrous oxide, as well as patients who suffer from claustrophobia.