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Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas) as Dental Anesthesia

The use of nitrous oxide, or "laughing gas," has become one of the most vital and popular forms of anesthesia in dental procedures. It is effective in management of pain as well as a powerful gag reflex. It is a safe, controlled form of anesthesia that is not affected by allergies. Furthermore, while it is a powerful sedation tool, it does not induce twilight sleep or leave you, the patient, in a post-anesthetic situation that would inhibit you post-surgery.

So, how does nitrous oxide serve as such a valuable tool for dentists (and patients)?

N2O is in inhaled gas; it is invisible and odorless, and it doesn't irritate the nasal passages. N2O is an analgesic, meaning that it relieves pain, that also induces feelings of calm, euphoria, and light-headedness. (While there may be visual or auditory effects, these are not considered the norm.)

Of course, like practically any form of medication, N2O use must be managed by a trained professional to avoid complications. N2O must be mixed with a healthy portion (usually around 70%) of oxygen, as pure N2O can  be devastating - even fatal - on its own. Also, of course, overexposure to the gas can be detrimental to the health of the patient. If you are fed nitrous oxide at too fast a pace, or left to inhale the gas for too long, side effects are likely. These could include sleepiness, nausea, or even unpleasant flashbacks. Fortunately, your dental professionals are required to be trained and licensed in proper administration of the gas.

There are many advantages to using nitrous oxide in dental anesthesia. Its rapid effectiveness - pain-killing properties typically kick in within 2-3 minutes - allow for your procedure to move along at a convenient pace.

Also, nitrous oxide use allows your dental professionals to alter its levels moment by moment as needed. Furthermore, they can control the length of time the gas will affect you. And nitrous oxide doesn't leave you with a groggy recovery; it's expelled from the body within minutes. So you shouldn't have to concern yourself with waiting at the dental office all afternoon or arranging a ride home. And it hasn't been shown to have any negative effects on the body's vital organs.

The disadvantages are few. Sometimes a patient feels uncomfortable with the level of sedation, or becomes nauseous from the gas. (Therefore, be sure to eat a sensible meal about four hours prior to a dental visit that includes nitrous oxide usage.)

Typically, though, patient problems with nitrous oxide usage stem from oversedation, which can be avoided by proper, professional use of the gas. And considering its effectiveness in preparing you for many intrusive dental procedures - including fillings, extractions, etc. - nitrous oxide is, in most cases, the ideal choice for dental anesthesia.