Some people fail to receive the benefits of modern dental treatment because of a simple yet seemingly overwhelming problem: Fear. It isn't uncommon to have a little anxiety about an upcoming dental procedure. But if your fears have kept you away from the dental office when you know you really should go — take heart! Conscious sedation with nitrous oxide can help you lose that anxiety, and make the whole experience so stress-free that you may not even remember it when it's over.
Nitrous oxide, a colorless gas with a slightly sweet odor, has been used in medicine for about a century; however its outdated nickname, “laughing gas,” is undeserved. It's a safe and effective method of administering conscious sedation — which means that you'll stay awake during the procedure. But when nitrous oxide is used in combination with a local anesthetic, you won't feel pain or anxiety. In fact, many patients report a feeling of well-being during this type of sedation. All bodily functions remain normal during the administration of nitrous oxide, and its effects wear off quickly afterwards.
How Is Nitrous Oxide Administered?
As a form of conscious sedation, nitrous oxide is inhaled through a small mask that fits comfortably over your nose. The gas is mixed with oxygen as it is being delivered, and both gases are always kept at a level that is safe for the body. In just a few minutes, you may start to experience a floating sensation, and perhaps some tingling in the hands and feet. That's a sign that the sedation is working. Once it has been verified that you're calm and comfortable, and that the dose is correct, your dental procedure can begin.
Nitrous oxide itself isn't a substitute for a local anesthetic — it's considered an anxiolytic, which means it makes anxiety disappear. For some procedures, you may still need an anesthetic injection. The difference is, you won't mind. Yet, you won't be asleep — you'll be able to speak, be aware of what's going on, and you will remain in control during the procedure. In fact, the dose can be fine-tuned to just the level of sedation you need.
When the procedure is over, the flow of nitrous oxide is decreased to zero, and the oxygen may be increased. After resting in the chair for a few minutes, you'll be able to sit up, and soon you can resume normal activities like driving. Although the experience has been compared to “having a couple of drinks,” there is very little “hangover” effect afterward.
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