A: For a long time now, nitrous oxide, better known as “laughing gas,” has been associated with going to the dentist. It is used when patients are anxious about a dental visit, for the calming effect of nitrous oxide reduces anxiety and pain, sometimes causing patients to forget the procedure. The most common patients it is used with are young children who tend to have the most fear about having dental work done. However, when suggesting it to the parents, oftentimes there is a look of concern followed with questions about its safety. Fortunately, nitrous oxide is very safe.
Among medical gases, nitrous oxide is considered to be very mild. Children’s equipment to administer nitrous oxide is fail-safe, so an overdose is impossible. It does not put the patient to sleep, and he or she can still respond to the dentist’s requests and answer questions. It tends to make most people feel relaxed, pleasant, happy or silly (yes, some people will actually start to laugh). It does have some potential side effects such as headache, nausea or vomiting, but in such situations it can usually be turned off pretty fast. After just a few minutes of discontinued inhalation, the nitrous oxide will be 100 percent completely flushed out of the body, and the patient will return to normal. That is what makes nitrous oxide so safe compared to other options.
Information provided by Dr. Rob Swanson, Swanson Dental, 2423 Willis Ave., Perry, (515) 465-5170.