Nitrous oxide is a colourless, slightly sweet-tasting gas commonly known as “laughing gas” because of its euphoric effects when inhaled.
Conscious sedation with nitrous oxide is frequently used in surgery and dentistry. Thanks to its relaxing properties, it’s very effective for nervous patients, including children. It can transform stress into feelings of well-being and relaxation, as it acts on the central nervous system.
Nitrous oxide is mixed with pure oxygen and administered through inhalation. It is considered as one of the safest ways of controlling anxiety during a dental or medical procedure. Because its potency is relatively low, its anaesthetic effects are felt quickly but disappear completely soon after. In fact, five minutes after the sedation is finished, you can go back to your regular activities without any residual after-effects.
According to the Canadian Dental Association, more than 40% of Canadians don’t see a dentist on a regular basis due to fear and anxiety. A national study showed that 50% of Canadians would like to be sedated or under general anaesthesia for some dental procedures.
Conscious sedation using nitrous oxide is very safe and can significantly reduce anxiety, while making the dentist’s work easier. This light anaesthesia is recommended to reduce stress in patients suffering from cardiac problems or high blood pressure.
With nitrous oxide, sedation levels can be adjusted at all times throughout the procedure. And, because it can be fully eliminated from the body quickly, it can be safely used on children. If they’re afraid, nitrous oxide can help calm their worries, so that they’ll have a positive experience at the dentist’s.
Nitrous oxide was discovered in 1772 by chemist and physicist, Joseph Priestley.
In 1844, a dentist by the name of Horace Wells discovered the anaesthetic effects of the gas, by experimenting on himself. But, his tests weren’t conclusive.
A Mr. Colton reintroduced laughing gas to the medical community. Along with his associate, a dentist called J.H. Smith, they established a dental clinic in New York, before exporting this method of anaesthesia to Europe.
In the 1880s, nitrous oxide progressively replaced ether and chloroform used in obstetric medicine.
Nitrous oxide is often administered to patients in the emergency or the maternity ward, as well as to children.
This gas has other uses, too, like in pressurized whipped cream containers.
With today’s knowledge, procedures and advanced equipment and tools, there’s no reason to fear the dentist. Talk to your dentist about conscious sedation—and start seeing your dentist as an ally!