To sit back and inhale something that's going to relax you, something that might even make you feel kind of nice⸺it might sound like you're about to do something illegal. Even the name laughing gas sounds like a recreational drug. But laughing gas is simply the common name for nitrous oxide, a gas which is often used as an anesthetic for some dental procedures. If your dentist tells you that they will need to sedate you with nitrous oxide for an upcoming procedure, what can you expect?
Although nitrous oxide is safe, there are some patients who aren't suitable candidates. These can include people with bowel obstructions, a disease of the middle ear or sinus passages or even someone who has recently gone scuba diving. The risk of an adverse reaction to nitrous oxide is low, but your dentist will likely quiz you about whether you have any of these ailments (or if you're a regular scuba diver), and if you have any other conditions which might concern you, be sure to ask your dentist.
A Fast-Acting Calmness
Your dentist will apply a mask to your face and will activate the flow of nitrous oxide. Its effects should become apparent rather quickly. The gas is a relaxant, so you will feel calm, even pleasantly so, before becoming sleepy and sedated, which is the desired result. Unlike other surgical anesthetics which are injected directly into your bloodstream, the effects of nitrous oxide can quickly be reversed. In the highly unlikely event of an adverse reaction or any complications, your dentist will simply stop the flow of nitrous oxide, and you will quickly be revived without any further intervention.
After the Gas
Once the gas is turned off, you will quickly reawaken, which is one of the key benefits of nitrous oxide as an anesthetic. Your dentist will instruct you to remain in the chair for a few moments and to breathe normally. This allows oxygen to enter your lungs and dilute the nitrous oxide to the point that its effects can no longer be felt. You might feel a little woozy, but this will quickly pass. And yet because of this, it might be necessary to have a family member or friend collect you after your appointment to safely transport you home. A minor headache can also be experienced, but some over-the-counter pain medication will deal with this. Some stomach discomfort in the hours after inhaling nitrous oxide is also possible, so be sure to ask your dentist when you can eat normally again.
If you have any concerns about inhaling nitrous oxide, be sure to discuss them with your dentist.