You may have seen movies where dental patients are administered laughing gas. In movies and TV patients usually have a heavy case of the giggles and say wild things. You are probably wondering if this is Hollywood magic or if this is really what happens when you get laughing gas. Read this article to help you get an idea of what to expect when given laughing gas, learn how laughing gas works, dispel any misconceptions, and prepare yourself for your next dentist appointment.

While laughing has is the unofficial term for it, let’s explore the scientific explanation behind laughing gas and how it works.

What Is Laughing Gas?

Nitrous oxide (N2O), more commonly known as “laughing gas,” is a colorless, non-flammable, sweet-smelling gas that, when combined with oxygen, is sometimes used during dental treatments. Nitrous Oxide was first discovered by an English scientist named Joseph Priestly in 1793, but it didn’t start to be used medically until much later. In the 1960s, it became a staple part of dentistry and has been ever since. This sedative agent is administered through a small mask that fits over your nose and is used to relieve anxiety during some dental procedures. All you have to do is breathe normally, and the anesthetic will be absorbed through the lungs. This causes the sedative effects to kick in within only minutes.

What Does Laughing Gas Do?

You may be asking yourself, why do dentists use this if it does not put you to sleep? That answer is simple. While you will be completely conscious during the procedure, nitrous oxide does a lot good for you as a patient. Firstly, it relieves anxiety. This will take away the fear that many people have when going to the dentist, even if it is just a routine checkup. This makes it very valuable for more complicated procedures that give patients high levels of anxiety. Additionally, nitrous oxide is a pain reliever. This stops the patient from feeling any of the hurt that comes with these dental procedures. Lastly, the gas creates a feeling of euphoria for patients when it is administered. Basically, it just makes you feel really good. This feeling goes hand and hand with the relief of pain and anxiety making an otherwise gruesome dental procedure quite enjoyable.

These effects are what makes the gas so desirable for patients. Nitrous Oxide can be especially helpful in those patients who are children. It helps them to relax and causes them to easily cooperate. This also applies to patients with disabilities or mental illnesses. The gas also is popular among patients who have a low pain tolerance. Administering the drug also doesn’t require a needle, which is an added bonus.

Now that we understand the basics of what laughing gas is, we can understand how laughing gas works.

What Causes This?

While nitrous oxide is relatively safe, you are still inhaling a state altering gas. When you inhale the gas, it displaces the air in your lungs and prevents oxygen from getting to your brain and blood. The deprivation of oxygen is what actually causes patients to get a bad case of the giggles. Have you ever wondered where the name laughing gas originated? In some cases, patients do experience mild hallucinations while under the influence.

Common Side Effects of Laughing Gas

Laughing gas has been a popular anesthetic for such a long period of time for a reason. It is safe when handled professionally.  Inhalation of the gas has no impact on the brain, lungs, kidneys, heart, or liver. Most people don’t experience any negative side effects whatsoever. The gas does disorient you, so you could harm yourself by tripping or falling if you move quickly after the procedure. However, the gas wears off relatively quickly after the mask is removed. So, if you wait five to ten minutes before rising, as your dentist will likely recommend, you probably will not feel any side effects.

While the majority of people do not experience any negative effects of nitrous oxide, there are some people who do. Some patients report feelings of numbness or pain in their legs. There have also been reports of minor effects like nausea, headaches, increased sleepiness, and excessive sweating or shivering. These side effects may occur when the level of nitrous is too high in the gas mixture or from a sudden change in the amount of nitrous oxide inhaled. Headaches can happen when a patient does not receive oxygen for at least five minutes after the nitrous oxide has been turned off. After the procedure, oxygen helps to flush any remaining gas from the lungs and return the patient to a fully awake and alert state. Anyone who experiences any discomfort while receiving nitrous oxide should inform the dentist immediately.

Now that you are an expert in how laughing gas works, you can learn how you should prepare for your upcoming appointment.

How To Prepare for a Proceduring that involves Laughing Gas

Another plus to Nitrous Oxide is that there is not much preparation required. It is recommended that you keep meals light prior to dental appointments in which nitrous oxide will be used to reduce the risk of nausea and vomiting. It is also a good idea to continue the light diet for a few hours following your appointment. These precautions should eliminate possible side effects. Other than that, there is no real preparation needed.

What To Expect from Laughing Gas

One of the greatest positives to nitrous oxide is that it is super easy to administer. Unlike other sedatives, there are no needles involved. Laughing gas is diffused through a mask, and then the anesthetic is absorbed through the lungs. All you have to do is breathe normally. After about 2-3 minutes, the gas will take full effect. You’ll feel a slight tingling sensation and general numbness throughout the body. Your dentist can easily adjust the depth of your sedation if it is too much or too little, but either way, you won’t be put completely to sleep. What happens is that you are essentially put in a dreamlike state. You will be conscious. You will be able to hear and to answer questions and communicate with your dentist as much as you need to. After the procedure, the gas will only take about 3-5 minutes after the mask is removed to wear off. The best part? There are no after-effects of hangovers so you can drive straight home afterward.

Common Misconceptions About Laughing Gas

Everything we have learned above dispels these common rumors.

  • Laughing gas is expensive
  • Laughing gas is dangerous
  • Laughing gas knocks you out
  • Laughing gas is only for people with anxiety
  • Laughing gas will make you spill secrets

Now that you know all about laughing gas and how it works, are you less anxious about it? Did this article debunk anything you have heard? Will you consider talking to your dentist about it for your next procedure?