Rarely does a conversation about dentistry conclude without a mention of laughing gas. This unique form of sedation has been depicted in movies, creating hilarious scenes involving patients and dental professionals. Pediatric patients usually look forward to having the experience. So what exactly is laughing gas?
Laughing gas is actually Nitrous Oxide. It is a clear, colorless, odorless gas used as a sedative during dental procedures. When inhaled it causes a calming effect to take over the entire body. Patients usually describe a warm sensation and experience a sense of comfort and euphoria, causing them to become giddy, thus the name laughing gas. Some patients say that they feel light-headed or buzzed, just slightly intoxicated, when receiving laughing gas.
The advantage to using laughing gas is that it works quickly. It reaches the brain within a matter of seconds. The full effect of the gas begins within two to three minutes. What is unique about the use of nitrous oxide is that it allows the patient to remain awake, alert, and responsive while numbing the pain. Unlike other sedatives or anesthesia that leave a patient groggy for long periods of time, laughing gas wears off very quickly, allowing a patient to return to their normal routine.
To administer the gas, dentists have the patient wear a nasal mask that allows them to inhale the gas directly. Because the brain needs a steady, uninterrupted flow of oxygen at all times, dentists use a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen to make sure that patients are sedated safely. An advantage in using laughing gas is that dentists can start and stop the flow of the sedative as needed throughout the procedure. So there’s no concern for receiving too much or not enough.
While giggles may be common when receiving laughing gas, there is no need to worry about losing complete control during a procedure. Since the gas is delivered using a nasal mask, only the patient is under the influence of the sedative during the procedure.