At Bow Trail Dental we offer you sedation dentistry in the form of nitrous oxide. You might know nitrous oxide by the name “laughing gas”, happy gas, inhalation sedation, nitrous, or N2 O2. This gentle and safe sedative agent can help you to feel more comfortable during certain procedures.
What is Nitrous Oxide?
In the late 1700s/early 1800s, young people discovered laughing gas, and it became a drug of choice as demonstrations were a popular source of entertainment. Today, we know that prolonged inhalation of pure nitrous oxide (chemical formula N2O) can be dangerous due to the lack of oxygen, so we administer a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide. Typically that ratio will be approximately 70% oxygen to 30% nitrous oxide. The mixture is known chemically as “N2O-O2”. This makes it safe to use for much longer periods of time because you’re getting enough oxygen to keep your body’s systems working well.
What Will It Feel Like?
You’ll be given a mask which fits over your nose, and the dentist will work with you to determine what the right ratio of oxygen to nitrous oxide is for you. Within 20 seconds, the nitrous will reach your brain; in 2-3 minutes, the beginning of the painkilling and relaxing effects will start to take hold; by 5 minutes you will usually feel a euphoric feeling spread throughout your body, similar to when you’re happily drunk. You may experience some auditory or visual effects, but the main effect is a dulling of the senses and anxiety relief. Some people feel light headed or get the giggles. Your arms and legs may feel tingly or heavy. Nitrous oxide does not make you fall asleep – if you feel sleepy due to breathing the gas, tell your dentist, and they will reduce the dosage. Patients who have experienced nitrous oxide report feeling less anxiety and finding that time melts away. One of the biggest benefits of using nitrous oxide as a sedation agent is that once the mask is removed, you will only need to sit for 3-5 minutes, after which the gas will be eliminated from your system and you can safely drive yourself home without an escort, as you would need for other methods.
Benefits and Drawbacks of Nitrous Oxide
There are very few drawbacks to the use of nitrous oxide. Previous bad experiences with it are most likely due to too high a dose; talk to your dentist about this and they can increase the dose very gradually to prevent negative reactions. If you have MS, emphysema, or some rare chest conditions, you may not be able to use nitrous oxide; it has also not been shown to be safe during the first trimester of pregnancy. If you have a cold or other condition which prevents you from breathing through your nose, you will not be able to use nitrous due to its administration through nasal breathing. If you suffer from severe claustrophobia you may be uncomfortable with the nasal breathing device, although the effects of nitrous oxide should relieve that anxiety if you are able to wait a few minutes for the effects to take hold.
In favour of nitrous oxide, it takes effect quickly and the effects wear off equally quickly. The depth of sedation, unlike with IV sedation, can be varied from moment to moment. You will only be sedated for the exact period of time that you need to be, whereas with other forms of sedation they take effect for a set period of time. This moment to moment control also prevents accidental overdoses.
Nitrous oxide is safe to use and has no ill effects on the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain. If you suffer from severe gagging, it can help to reduce or even eliminate that reflex. To help you have the best experience with nitrous possible, we recommend that you have a moderately sized meal (not large) about 4 hours before your appointment is possible to reduce possible nausea, as this is a potential side effect for those who are nausea-prone.