How does “Laughing gas” (Inhalation Sedation) work?
“Laughing gas” or Nitrous oxide oxygen anxiolysis may be often recommended by your child’s pediatric dentist for helping him/her cope through dental treatment. With the levels used in a dental office, Nitrous oxide oxygen generally does not cause sedation but relaxes a mildly anxious child and takes the edge away so the child is calmer during the appointment.
It also has “analgesic” or “pain relieving” properties which help the child even further. It also helps eliminate the sense of time away from helping a child with shorter attention span go through more extensive treatment. With appropriate scavenger systems in place and the ability to titrate/adjust the level of oxygen/Nitrous oxide, it has a great margin of safety in your dentists’ office.
The child is allowed to breathe 100% oxygen for a few minutes at the end of treatment so that all the Nitrous oxide is flushed out of their bodies and they are okay to continue with their routine activities thereafter.
The important precaution with Nitrous oxide oxygen is to ensure that the child does not have a full stomach as it can cause nausea and vomiting in a small percentage of kids especially if they have had a big meal right before. Your dentist may recommend avoiding dairy and greasy foods 2 hours before the appointment.
What are the limitations of Inhalation Sedation?
While Nitrous oxide oxygen is a great adjunct for dental treatment in children, it has its limitations. It is effective only when a child is mature enough to follow directions, able to sit still in the chair and wants to co-operate for the treatment. A child who is crying does not breathe through his nose and hence does not get the benefits of anxiety relief with laughing gas. Your pediatric dentist can make a clinical judgment on whether or not your child is a good candidate for Nitrous oxide oxygen or if he/she needs another kind of sedation depending on the age, level of co-operation, maturity, and extent of treatment needs.
On a lighter note, does laughing gas actually makes one laugh?
The simple answer is- only in a very small percentage of kids. Dr. Kanuga says in her career of over 12 years of using Nitrous oxide oxygen in practice for thousands of children; she has had a total of about 5-6 kids who laughed or giggled during treatment with laughing gas. Well, that is a good problem to have and can be resolved by adjusting the level lower as some individuals have a lower threshold to it!!
To summarize, Nitrous oxide oxygen remains a great tool and adjunct to dental treatment for children.