Did you know that about 36% of people share a common fear of visiting the dentist? This dental anxiety often results in neglected oral care. But there’s a simple way to help manage feelings of discomfort or fear.
Learn how to overcome dental anxiety with nitrous oxide, making dental appointments more comfortable and less intimidating. Nitrous oxide sedation dentistry is a major breakthrough in dentistry, helping countless individuals face their dental fears head-on.
What is Dental Phobia?
Dental phobia, or dental anxiety, is a widespread concern often rooted in past traumatic dental experiences, fear of pain, or negative stories about dentistry. This intense fear can lead to avoiding dental care, adversely affecting oral health. Common symptoms of dental phobia include:
- Intense nervousness. Feeling extremely anxious or nervous as the dental appointment approaches.
- Trouble sleeping. Difficulty sleeping the night before a dental exam.
- Increased heart rate. Experiencing a rapid heartbeat or palpitations when thinking about the dentist.
- Physical illness. Feeling physically sick, nauseous, or dizzy at the thought of visiting the dentist.
- Panic attacks. Experiencing signs of panic, such as shortness of breath or tremors, when in or thinking about being in a dental office.
What is Nitrous Oxide Sedation Dentistry?
Nitrous oxide sedation dentistry, commonly called “laughing gas” sedation, is a mild sedative used widely in dentistry to alleviate patient anxiety during dental procedures. It is administered through a small mask that fits over your nose, allowing you to inhale nitrous oxide and oxygen.
This type of sedation creates a feeling of happiness and relaxation, which is helpful for patients who get nervous or uncomfortable about dental treatments. It’s popular because it works fast, and your dentist can easily change the gas concentration during the procedure to keep you comfortable.
Unlike many other forms of sedation, you’ll still be conscious and can talk to the dental team. Even though you’re awake, you’ll feel relaxed and usually don’t feel as much discomfort.
History of Nitrous Oxide Use
The use of nitrous oxide in dentistry dates to the 19th century and is credited with being one of the first forms of anesthesia used in the medical field. Its discovery as a potential analgesic agent is attributed to English chemist Joseph Priestley in 1772. In the early 1800s, its effects were more widely recognized and experimented with for medical purposes, including dentistry.
The real breakthrough came in 1844 when an American dentist named Horace Wells attended a demonstration of the gas used in a public lecture. The demonstration, often referred to as a “laughing gas party,” was a common form of entertainment at the time, where participants would inhale the gas and exhibit euphoric and sometimes hilarious behavior.
During one such event, Wells noted that a participant injured his leg while under the influence of the gas but claimed to feel no pain during the incident. Intrigued by this observation, Wells began experimenting with nitrous oxide as an anesthetic in dental procedures. He successfully used it to have his own tooth extracted by an assistant, proving its efficacy in reducing pain and revolutionizing the field of dental surgery and pain management.
How Does Nitrous Oxide Work?
Nitrous oxide is a unique sedative in that it provides anxiolytic (anxiety-reducing) and analgesic (pain-relieving) properties.
Nitrous oxide works by inducing relaxation and pain reduction through its effects on the nervous system. When inhaled, it quickly enters the bloodstream through the small capillaries in the lungs. It reaches the brain, triggering the release of the body’s natural endorphins and dopamine — neurotransmitters associated with euphoria and calm.
This reaction helps reduce your awareness of pain and creates a sense of well-being, making dental procedures less stressful and more comfortable.
Nitrous oxide doesn’t put you to sleep; instead, it keeps you in a dreamy, relaxed state where you remain awake, responsive, and able to communicate. This level of conscious sedation is beneficial for maintaining safety and cooperation during the dental procedure.
Is Nitrous Oxide Considered Safe?
Nitrous oxide has minimal impact on the respiratory and cardiovascular systems, making it a safe choice for many patients. Unlike sedatives that might require complex monitoring and recovery processes, nitrous oxide’s effects are almost entirely reversible just by breathing fresh air.
This reversibility is due to its low solubility in blood, which allows your body to eliminate the gas through the lungs rapidly without metabolizing in your body. This means that once the doctor stops administering the gas, you recover quickly, and its soothing effects diminish, allowing you to return to your normal state of alertness and continue with your day with no lingering effects.
Additionally, because it is non-allergenic and has minimal side effects, it is suitable for a wide range of patients, including children and adults with certain medical conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
What Happens During the Sedation Process At the Dentist?
Here’s what usually occurs when you request nitrous oxide sedation for a dental procedure:
You’ll sit comfortably in the dental chair, and your dentist will place a small mask over your nose. This mask is hooked up to a machine that mixes nitrous oxide with oxygen and controls how much you get.
You’ll be asked to breathe in through your nose. Once you inhale the gas, you’ll feel its effects in just a few minutes. Your dentist can fine-tune the gas levels to ensure you’re comfortably relaxed.
During the procedure, the dental team continuously monitors your vital signs, including oxygen levels, blood pressure, and heart rate, adjusting the gas accordingly. They’ll adjust the gas as needed. It’s important to let them know if you feel uncomfortable or need any changes.
After your dental work is done, they’ll switch off the nitrous oxide, and you’ll breathe in pure oxygen for a few minutes. This helps clear any leftover gas from your system.
Post-Sedation Process and Recovery
After your dental procedure with nitrous oxide, the recovery is quick and simple. The dentist will switch you from nitrous oxide to breathing 100% oxygen for a few minutes. This helps clear any leftover gas from your lungs and brings you back to full alertness.
Usually, within 3-5 minutes of breathing in pure oxygen, you’ll feel the effects of the nitrous oxide wear off, and you’ll be back to your normal self. A major advantage of nitrous oxide is the quick recovery time, allowing you to resume your day immediately, including driving or returning to work, without feeling drowsy or impaired.
Before you leave, your dentist will ensure you have fully recovered and provide all necessary instructions for your post-procedure care and recovery. Eating light meals, like crackers, oatmeal, or yogurt, is a good idea before and after your procedure to avoid an upset stomach.
Other Ways to Overcome Dental Phobia
Although sedation dentistry is a widely used and practical option, there are various other effective methods to ease dental fears and make visits to the dentist more manageable, such as:
- Communication. Talking about your concerns with your dentist can be beneficial. They can clarify the procedures and provide reassurance, helping to make the experience feel less daunting.
- Distraction techniques. Listening to music, streaming your favorite TV show or movie, or focusing on a stress ball can divert your attention from the procedure.
- Mindfulness and relaxation. Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or guided imagery can reduce anxiety by promoting a state of relaxation.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of therapy can change negative thought patterns about dental visits.
- Support from friends or family. Bringing someone you trust to your appointments can offer emotional support and comfort.
- Appointment timing. Scheduling your dental appointment when you’re less likely to be hurried or stressed, like in the early morning, can help lower anxiety.
- Positive reinforcement. Rewarding yourself after a successful dental visit can create positive associations with dental care.
Manage Dental Anxiety with Nitrous Oxide at Owens Cosmetic and Family Dentistry
If fear of the dentist has prevented you from caring for your teeth, consider trying nitrous oxide sedation. It’s a safe and effective way to help you overcome dental phobia.
Owens Cosmetic and Family Dentistry is dedicated to providing a comfortable and anxiety-free experience. Schedule a consultation to discuss how you can overcome dental anxiety with nitrous oxide and make your next dental visit a calm and positive experience.