Nitrous Oxide has been used in dentistry for over one hundred years ago. Horace Wells, a Connecticut dentist first experimented using it as an adjunct to dental surgery in the 1840’s. Since that time it has become a well established and safe method of eliminating or lessoning anxiety during dental treatment.
When a dentist administers Laughing Gas, he actually has the patient breathe a mixture of Nitrous Oxide and Oxygen. Usually modern analgesia machines do not allow the dentist to deliver more than 65%Nitrous Oxide/35% Oxygen mixture. In addition the machines are equipped with a fail safe that shuts off the machine if the Oxygen runs out. These modern machines provide a very safe way of performing nitrous analgesia.
For some patients nitrous oxide analgesia allows them to have dentistry performed in a more relaxed state than if they just had local anesthesia. Indeed, I have patients who I would not be able to feel comfortable about treating in my office if they ‘weren’t under the influence of nitrous oxide’. Some extremely anxious patients come in ask to be put to sleep for their dentistry and I offer the option of nitrous analgesia and it works out fine.
Nitrous Oxide has some interesting effects. Patients usually experience a lessoning of anxiety almost immediately. They also seem to find my jokes funnier (my jokes can be pretty lame) and it has a beneficial amnesiac effect- patients often can not judge accurately how long the procedure has taken(this is a good thing!). The effects can be easily reversed with 5 minutes of pure Oxygen administration.
Laughing Gas is not for everyone. Pregnant woman should avoid it and I find that the type of patient who wants to know everything that is going on (needs to know every detail of treatment), often does not enjoy having Nitrous Oxide.