Understandably, many people are nervous about visiting the dentist. They’re afraid of the discomfort they may feel during their dental procedure.
One of the most common solutions to dental anxiety is a chemical compound called nitrous oxide. This compound is also known as laughing gas. That’s because it takes the form of a gas at room temperature, and it makes some people feel giddy when they inhale it.
If your dentist has recommended nitrous oxide for your next procedure, you may wonder what to expect. Many parents wonder whether nitrous oxide is safe for their children. Discover the answers to your questions by learning more about nitrous oxide and its use in dentistry below.
History of Nitrous Oxide
Nitrous oxide was first synthesized in 1772 by the chemist Joseph Priestley. Medical professionals soon began studying its potential impact on medicine. In the book Researches, Chemical and Philosophical, published in 1800, Humphry Davy noted that nitrous oxide could relieve patients during surgery.
In 1844, Horace Wells became the first dentist to use nitrous oxide on patients. Other dentists weren’t convinced by his public demonstration and were initially skeptical about his results. However, Wells’ colleague Gardner Quincy Colton successfully used nitrous oxide on more than 25,000 patients. Other dentists began to accept nitrous oxide’s safety and effectiveness, and its use spread throughout dentistry.
What Nitrous Oxide Is Used For
In dentistry, nitrous oxide is used to relax patients during basic dental procedures such as dental fillings. It is occasionally used for routine cleanings for patients with severe dental anxiety.
Nitrous oxide is sometimes used in hospitals as well. It isn’t strong enough for major surgeries. However, medical personnel might give patients nitrous oxide to prepare them for a more powerful anesthetic.
Nitrous oxide is especially helpful for children, people with special needs, or anyone with dental anxiety. Many patients can withstand minor procedures without nitrous oxide, however. That’s because the dentist already numbs the areas in their mouths that he or she works on.
How Nitrous Oxide Works
To administer nitrous oxide, a dentist places a mask over a patient’s nose. The mask contains a mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen that patients breathe in. The dentist can adjust the nitrous oxide concentration to fit the patient’s needs.
Nitrous oxide has several interesting effects on the brain. It blocks pain-signaling neurons, decreasing pain. It also increases the activity of GABA receptors, decreasing anxiety. Finally, it leads to dopamine release, causing patients to feel content and even euphoric.
Nitrous oxide might make it seem like time passes more quickly. It might also make patients less likely to gag with dental instruments in their mouths. Plus, it can relax patients and make them less likely to move during the procedure. This can make it easier for the dentist to perform the procedure.
While all patients feel calmer under nitrous oxide, the effects of nitrous oxide differ from person to person. Some patients feel giddy and even laugh out loud. Others feel relaxed and light-headed. Some patients’ arms and legs feel heavy while others experience tingling in their arms and legs.
Nitrous oxide isn’t as strong as other sedatives. Most patients do not fall asleep and can still talk with dental staff. However, they may not remember everything that happened during the procedure.
After the procedure is complete, the dentist turns off the nitrous oxide and keeps the oxygen on for a few minutes. When the dentist takes the mask off, the nitrous oxide will have already exited the patient’s system.
Safety of Nitrous Oxide
Fortunately, nitrous oxide is considered safe, even for children. It is well tolerated, does not cause allergic reactions, and does not have any lingering effects. In fact, dentists might even allow patients to drive themselves home after using nitrous oxide.
The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry recognizes nitrous oxide as safe for children. However, the dentist should ask for parental permission before administering nitrous oxide on a child.
About 0.5% of patients experience nausea from nitrous oxide. To help you avoid nausea, your dentist may ask you to avoid eating a heavy meal two hours before your procedure. Your dentist will also ask you about any medical conditions you have and any medications you’re taking.
Nitrous oxide may not work for patients who have a congested nose or problems breathing through their nose. It may also not be the best choice for claustrophobic patients who feel uncomfortable wearing a mask. Nitrous oxide may not be safe for pregnant women.
If you’re undergoing a dental procedure with nitrous oxide, you don’t have anything to worry about. Nitrous oxide will help you feel comfortable and calm and can reduce the pain you feel. If you have questions and concerns about nitrous oxide, talk to your dentist.
If you need a dental examination or procedure, call Apollo Dental Center. We treat patients of all ages with gentle, skilled dental care.