The Benefits and Dangers of Gas as a Painkiller

For those patients who either are afraid of needles or do not react well to Novocain, your Asheville dentist can offer you an alternative besides going without a painkiller. Nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas, safely can be administered to most dental patients. Even children are routinely given nitrous oxide at the dentist.

A colorless gas, nitrous oxide smells pleasantly sweet, so you’ll know when you are inhaling it. The gas is usually mixed with oxygen at a ratio of one-to-three. Since your dentist has to work on your teeth, the gas is administered through plastic tubes placed in your nostrils. You have to be able to breathe through the nose. The gas takes about five minutes to take effect.

The Benefits of Nitrous Oxide

Asheville dentists use nitrous oxide as a mild sedative in conjunction with other painkillers. By itself, it is not considered an effective painkiller. The gas will not knock you out, but it will relax you, allowing your dentist to use a local anesthetic to provide a true pain-free treatment.

Once the gas takes effect, you will relax and feel great. You may get a warm and tingly feeling. You’ll still feel everything the dentist does, but you won’t care — but that’s why your Asheville dentist also uses a local anesthetic before treating you.

Properly administered, nitrous oxide is perfectly safe. It is rarely addictive, and you certainly won’t become addicted if you’re exposed to it just twice a year during your dental exam. Most people tolerate it well, and its effects dissipate quickly when the gas is turned off.

The Dangers of Nitrous Oxide

Possible side effects include nausea and a headache. In rarer cases, an urge to vomit may accompany the nausea. If you feel any of the side effects, or if you suddenly feel anxious, let your dentist know. By switching off the gas and allowing you to breathe 100 percent oxygen, he can flush the gas out of your system within five minutes.

If you have asthma or any trouble breathing — from stuffy nose, for example — nitrous oxide may not work on you. The gas is not recommended if you have bronchitis, emphysema, or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) for obvious reasons. Furthermore, if you are pregnant or taking medication for a psychiatric condition, consult your primary care physician before taking nitrous oxide. If you have any doubts, talk to your Asheville dentist.

You should wait a good 15 minutes after your dental treatment before getting behind the wheel of a motor vehicle. Nitrous oxide can make you dizzy and impair your judgment. Always err on the side of caution.

Advice from an Asheville Dentist

Nitrous oxide has been used as a sedative safely for decades. Today, we follow best practices to administer the gas. Even the National Institutes of Health has written that nitrous oxide “has [an] impressive safety [record] and is excellent for providing minimal and moderate sedation for apprehensive dental patients.” So we believe the benefits outweigh any dangers in using the gas.

—Dr. Perry Stamatiades