father playing with child after dental procedure with laughing gas
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What Does Laughing Gas Do to a Dental Patient?

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Most dental visits are pretty by the book. A dental hygienist will scrape plaque off of your teeth, followed by a polishing to remove any stain on the teeth. After that, a round of flossing, a peek under the tongue, and your dentist gives your teeth a thumbs up. You pocket a free toothbrush and floss, book your next appointment and mark another six months on your calendar.

But not every visit is so smooth. Some procedures require laughing gas to be administered. You've certainly heard of it, but what does laughing gas do, you wonder?

What Is Laughing Gas?

Nitrous oxide (N2O), more commonly known as laughing gas, is often used by dentists to provide mild or moderate sedation for fearful patients.

It is colourless and odourless. Nitrous oxide is effective as a sedative because it relaxes patients with the pleasurable feelings it emits. Nitrous oxide's usefulness also stems from how quickly it works and that its effects are reversible. For those and other reasons, nitrous oxide is widely considered to be a safe sedation method.

Side Effects

The Journal of Dental Anesthesia and Pain Medicine reports that the risk of serious negative side effects is low when properly administered. They can occur if the nitrous level is too high or if the amount being inhaled quickly changes. Potential side effects are as follows:

  • Headaches
  • Shivering
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Fatigue

Once the nitrous oxide has been turned off, a patient needs to receive oxygen for at least five minutes to avoid a headache. The oxygen purges any remaining gas from the lungs while aiding the patient in becoming alert and awake.

Meals are another focal point when receiving nitrous oxide. It's a good idea to eat lightly prior to your procedure and avoid a big meal for three hours afterward. Also, consult your dentist as to when it is safe for you to drive post procedure.

Nitrous Oxide for Children

Not only is it safe for children, but laughing gas is a preferred sedation method for children who are nervous or anxious about a pending procedure. Discuss with your child's dentist ahead of time to determine the appropriate sedation method. Some children may suffer from nausea or have difficulty wearing the mask needed to breathe it in.

Contraindications for Nitrous Oxide

While it's an effective sedative that's easy to administer, nitrous oxide might not be right for you. There are many factors to consider when deciding if nitrous oxide is the appropriate choice, notes the Canadian Dental Association. Tell your dentist if you have any of the following conditions: first trimester of pregnancy, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency, or a cobalamin deficiency. Additionally, if you are receiving treatment using bleomycin sulfate or have a history of emotional issues or drug addiction, laughing gas may not be recommended.

Chances are, at some point, you'll undergo a procedure that requires laughing gas. To avoid such a procedure, forming healthy dental habits is key. An oral hygiene routine starts with brushing at least twice a day to prevent plaque, tartar build up and gingivitis. Follow with regular flossing to rid your teeth and gums of food particles your toothbrush might not be able to reach. Practising proper oral care is certainly nothing to laugh at. You don't want to have to discover first-hand the answer to "What does laughing gas do?"