Many of our patients feel sufficiently calmed when we administer nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas. Nitrous oxide dental sedation is a great way for our patients to unwind during treatment, and when it is properly administered, the effects wear off quickly enough that the patient can drive him – or herself home.
What are the advantages of nitrous oxide?
- Nitrous oxide dental sedation works very rapidly – it reaches the brain within 20 seconds, and relaxation and pain-killing properties develop after 2 or 3 minutes.
- The depth of sedation can be altered from moment to moment, allowing the person who administers the gas to increase or decrease the depth of sedation. Other sedation techniques don’t allow for this. For example, with IV sedation, it’s easy to deepen the level of sedation, but difficult to lessen it. Whereas with gas, the effects are almost instant.
- Other sedation techniques have a fixed duration of action (because the effects of pills or intravenous drugs last for a specific time span), whereas gas can be given for the exact time span it’s needed for. It can also be switched off when not needed and then switched on again (though to avoid a roller-coaster effect, you shouldn’t do this too abruptly).
- There’s no “hangover” effect – the gas is eliminated from the body within 3 to 5 minutes after the gas supply is stopped. You can safely drive home and don’t need an escort.
- With nitrous oxide, it’s easy to give incremental doses until the desired action is obtained (this is called “titration”). So the administrator has virtually absolute control over the action of the drug, preventing the possibility of accidental overdoses. While giving incremental doses is possible with IV sedation, it’s not possible with oral sedation (as a result, oral sedation can be a bit of a hit-and-miss affair).
- For certain procedures – those involving gums rather than teeth (e. g. deep cleaning) – it may be possible to use nitrous instead of local anesthesia. N2O acts as a painkiller on soft tissues such as gums. However, its pain-relieving effects vary a lot from person to person and can’t be relied upon.
- No injection is required. In cases of very severe needle phobia, getting laughing gas first can help you feel relaxed enough to allow the needle required for IV sedation to be inserted in your arm or hand. The very deep state of sedation achievable through IV sedation will then allow you to accept local anesthetic.
- Inhalation sedation is very safe. It has very few side effects and the drugs used have no ill effects on the heart, lungs, liver, kidneys, or brain.
- Inhalation sedation has been found to be very effective in eliminating or at least minimizing severe gagging.