Chances are you’ve heard of laughing gas. During your last visit to the dentist, you likely sat in the patient’s chair (can we call it a recliner?) waiting for the hygienist to review your dental records. Out of sheer boredom you started looking around the room and at some point, peering off into one of the far corners, you noticed a busy looking machine covered in knobs and switches of various sizes. Next to it, a shiny metal canister.
Your dental hygienist informed you of its name: laughing gas. You probably thought to yourself, “How bad could the dentist’s jokes be if he needed to gas me up to make me laugh? Better yet, why am I being told jokes in the first place? This toothache is so bad I feel it could be the end of me. This is no time for jokes!”
What is Laughing Gas and what does it do?
Laughing gas, commonly referred to as nitrous oxide, is a colorless, non-flammable gas that is known for its slightly sweet smell and taste. Its used in dentistry to sedate patients before they participate in an invasive dental procedure as well as to limit anxiety.
Here’s how it works. After being inhaled, the chemicals in the gas move through the bloodstream and essentially shut down communication with receptors used for muscle activation. Stopping these receptors from communicating slows down your pain perception and relaxes your muscles. You can understand why this might be useful if you’ve ever had a root canal.
How is Laughing Gas Administered?
The process to give a patient laughing gas is easy and safe, but this wasn’t always the case. In the olden days, the gas was kept by itself in a rubber “breathing bag”, which didn’t include an oxygen mix or a meter to tell how much nitrous a patient was breathing in. This method proved to be dangerous and ineffective. Dentists now use a relative analgesia machine, which keeps a mixed supply of 70% oxygen to 30% nitrous oxide. Gauges on this machine let the dentist know how much nitrous oxide gas to administer and how well the levels are being maintained. Safer and more effective than the old breathing bag, the updated method helps prevent a patient from feeling nauseous or even worse, losing consciousness.
From the analgesia machine, the gas is sent out through rubber tubes and into a breathing mask attached to the patient’s nose and mouth. A vacuum suction on the breathing mask ensures that none of the gas gets out (you wouldn’t want your dentist taking in fumes while administering a dental procedure!). Even though it does have a slightly sweet taste, laughing gas is often mixed with berry, vanilla, or even mint flavors.
How will it make me Feel?
You won’t be hysterically laughing the entire time you’re on it. The purpose for laughing gas is to create a pleasant and relaxing experience out of one that might have otherwise caused pain. There are 4 stages of feeling or sensation related to the experience, and most patients describe it as effective and pleasant.
These 4 stages are:
- A tingling feeling in your arms or legs. This is accompanied by paresthesia or a feeling of vibration.
- Experiencing warm sensations.
- Feelings of euphoria.
- Difficulty keeping eyes open and even dreaming.
Why Should I Try Laughing Gas?
This one should be self-explanatory for anyone that has anxiety when even looking at a sharp and pointy object. If an IV is needed, laughing gas can help relax you enough so that you won’t notice the needle.
Laughing gas gets to the brain in 20 seconds. It starts pain killing in as fast as 2-3 minutes. How’s that for effective?
You won’t need a ride home
Laughing gas wears off 3-5 minutes after the supply is cut off. You won’t feel groggy afterwards and can even drive yourself home from the dentist.
Since the person administering the gas has incremental control, the possibility of an overdose is extremely low. Also, nitrous oxide does not cause any damage to vital organs.
Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is a safe and effective way to lessen your pain during a dental procedure.
Ask your dentist about laughing gas next time you pop in for a visit.