You might know nitrous oxide by the name laughing gas. This has long been used by dentists to provide patient comfort and to make sometimes intimidating dental procedures much easier to deal with. Nitrous oxide is an anesthetic and constitutes a form of sedation.
What it Does
Nitrous oxide is considered to be a form of conscious sedation. You don’t actually fall asleep as you would if you were given the type of anesthesia used before a major surgery. You simply inhale the gas out of a mask and the effects come on very rapidly.
The technical term for the effect of nitrous oxide is minimally depressed consciousness. You are aware of your surroundings, you are not going to fall asleep, but anxiety is greatly lessened and, for people who have some anxiety about going to the dentist but not excessive anxiety, it oftentimes provides just the right amount of sedation.
Can I Get It?
The vast majority of people can tolerate nitrous oxide. In fact, it is oftentimes used on children. For some people, anxiety might not actually be the issue, but a gag reflex may make it almost impossible to work on them otherwise. Nitrous oxide can help in these cases. In essence, you don’t need to have a major dental procedure to get nitrous oxide. If you’re just a bit nervous, the dentist will generally be happy to give some. It makes the procedure easier for them and for you.
People who are pregnant, people who have an addiction to illicit drugs and people who have breathing difficulties are generally not recommended to receive nitrous oxide. For everyone else, nitrous oxide is a very safe sedative. Some people do report having a mild sense of nausea after being administered nitrous oxide, but this is generally remedied by simply lowering the amount of nitrous oxide in the nitrous oxide/oxygen mix the dentist administers.
If anxiety is keeping you from visiting the dentist, a minor psychological discomfort could be exposing you to major health issues. Dentists have many different ways to help you calm down before procedures and nitrous oxide is only one of them. For most people, however, it is such a safe and reliable way to provide lowered anxiety levels that it is almost a given that your dentist will offer it to you. Remember: the anxiety you feel about going to the dentist is something the dentist can actually help you with once you get the courage to sit down in the chair.