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In general, laughing gas is an optional analgesic available in most dental offices. Numerous common procedures can be performed without it. In fact, some dentists choose not to equip their offices with the popular anesthetic at all. Many patients do prefer to use it, though, because of its calming — yet euphoric — effect and its pain-relieving qualities. It can be administered alone or in conjunction with Novocaine®, a localized numbing agent given to the patient in the form of an injection near the procedure site.
Laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, is commonly used in dentistry, as well as some other non-dental medical procedures. When patients request it, a small rubbery mask is placed over the patient’s nose, which is connected to a machine that releases a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen. When the person breathes through his or her nose, the sweet-smelling gas quickly produces a calming effect and pain relief. Some people even fall asleep during procedures when laughing gas is used, but most remain awake — albeit tranquil.
Following a few breaths of laughing gas, the patient experiences the pain-relieving and feel-good effects of it almost instantaneously. When this option is requested, the dentist will usually administer it to the patient prior to numbing the area of the mouth to be worked on. If the person begins to feel nauseous or too sedated, a quick adjustment to the dials on the nitrous oxide machine can usually relieve any unpleasant symptoms. The dentist is able to administer more or less of the gas to achieve desired pain relief.
When dentists prepare their patients for treatments that may cause pain, such as filling cavities or performing root canals, they will usually inject the patient’s mouth with a numbing agent such as Novocaine® or Lidocaine®. Some people are allergic to the local anesthetic or may have had negative reactions in the past. In these cases, laughing gas may be the best option. It is also especially helpful for easing anxiety of individuals who are afraid of dentists.
Sometimes, there is an additional charge for the use of laughing gas. It may not be included in the procedure fee, however, so it is important to inquire about that when making your decision as to whether or not you would like to have it. In contrast, injections to numb the mouth are often included in the cost of most dental procedures that would normally cause pain.
I have never had laughing gas before a dental procedure, but there are times when the thought of needles scares me. I'm not sure I like the idea of being somewhat aware during the procedure, but if it saves me from the anxiety of a needle and full sedation, I'd be willing to try it.
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