Nitrous Oxide: Relaxed Enough to Laugh

For many Americans, both young and old, a trip to the dentist is something to dread. The reasons behind dental anxiety range from bad past experiences to cinematic misrepresentation of the profession to even inexplicable, irrational phobia. In a quest to better patient relations, dentists across the country have worked to find new ways to help patients relax at the dentist.


It’s Called Laughing Gas for a Reason

One of the most commonly used sedation treatments in both modern and historic dentistry is nitrous oxide. Also known as laughing gas, nitrous oxide is an inhaled anesthetic that is absorbed and distributed through the lungs, according the American Dental Association.

"The draw to using nitrous oxide in many cases is how quickly it begins to work and how inherently safe it is when it comes to sedation options," said Dr. Amy Norman, DDS, a leading dentist in Everett, Washington.

"It creates such a state of relaxation that it actually becomes euphoric, and sometimes patients may find themselves laughing or giggling as a result."

Laughing Gas Helps Patients of All Ages

Nitrous oxide is such a safe option for dental sedation that it’s a popular choice for both adults and even the youngest dentistry patients, according to Norman. It’s a top choice for children's procedures for many reasons, especially how fast the sedative begins to work and how quickly patients return to normal after the procedure ends. In fact, nitrous oxide therapy is the only sedation option that allows adult patients to drive themselves home after their procedure.  

"For some adults with severe dental anxiety or phobia, nitrous oxide may not be enough to ease their anxiety," said Norman. "Many dental practices offer different levels of sedation for treatments so that no one, no matter how severe their anxiety, has to go without the care they need."

Sedation Dentistry for All Levels

When dental anxiety reaches extreme levels, some patients may avoid dental care until the pain of infection becomes overwhelming. For some patients, the best solution is a medication that helps slow the nervous system. In this type of dental sedation, the patient is conscious but feels calm and relaxed. Some may not even remember the procedure after it is finished.

The next level of sedation involves intravenous, or IV, application. This method is often reserved for patients who have anxiety that is so severe they have gone without professional dental care for an extended period of time and may require extensive work all in one visit.

"Sedation dentistry is very safe, and in many cases, the risks of sedation are far less than the risk of complications from the severe infections that can occur as a result of years of neglecting professional dental care for a problem tooth," Norman said.

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