Despite enormous advances in dental treatment and pain relief methods over the years, many people still become extremely anxious about a trip to the dentist.

This may mean that they delay treatment until a minor problem becomes a bigger one, or cut treatment short because they cannot tolerate any more time “in the chair”.

For some people, the anxiety is caused by a bad experience of dental care which they have had in the past, fear of the unknown or anxiety about the pain or discomfort which treatment may cause. Whatever the reason, dental anxiety is a major issue which cannot be ignored.

For a large number of people with dental anxiety, some form of tranquillisation is probably the most appropriate option. Tranquillisers help to dull the unpleasant feelings of apprehension which reluctant dental patients may feel, as well as have the ability to potentially reduce the level of discomfort which is experienced.

Although some patients may benefit from an IV drip or oral sedation, a common form of sedation which is extremely safe and widely tolerated by patients of all ages and states of health is nitrous oxide. Read on to discover more about the benefits which nitrous oxide can bring.

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide is a gas which has no colour or smell. Its chemical formula is NO2. When inhaled, it tastes slightly sweet. It has been used as a painkiller and tranquiliser since the 1700s, providing relief for patients having dental extractions or other procedures.

Unlike other sedatives, its application is non-invasive and straight-forward – there is no need for large amounts of specialist equipment and the dose can be easily calibrated to meet individual requirements.

Because it has been in use for centuries, its effects are well-documented, minimising the risk of any unpleasant surprises during use.

How is Nitrous Oxide Administered?

The application of nitrous oxide is extremely simple. A face mask is connected to a tank of nitrous oxide and the patient inhales until a sufficient level of nitrous oxide is present in the blood.

Because nitrous oxide is quickly broken down and expelled by the body, patients may need top-ups of the tranquiliser during longer procedures.

Once the nitrous oxide has taken effect, the mask can be removed until required again, allowing treatment to take place. The patient is conscious throughout and can easily indicate whether they need more nitrous oxide or whether the current amount is sufficient. After treatment, the patient is usually given some oxygen to speed up the dissipation of the nitrous oxide from the body.

What are the Effects of Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide has a number of beneficial effects, which when combined give a good patient experience:

Analgesic

The drug has been shown to reduce pain sensation in a number of different studies. Whilst the pain relieving properties aren’t so great that nitrous oxide can be used for a surgical anaesthesia, it does have a numbing effect on pain.

This means that people who have a low pain threshold, or who are concerned about the level of discomfort which a procedure is likely to engender, gain particular benefit from using nitrous oxide during treatment.

Euphoria

Nitrous oxide has a physiological effect on some parts of the brain, prompting a reduction in unpleasant anxious feelings and a rise in euphoria.

This advantage is one of the main reasons that nitrous oxide is such a popular choice as a tranquilliser during dental treatment. After only a few inhalations of the substance, patients quickly begin to feel calmer and happier.

No matter what the cause of the anxiety might be, nitrous oxide can usually go some way towards relieving it. Fast-acting and safe, nitrous oxide is the tranquilising drug of choice for a wide range of situations.

Muscle Relaxation

In addition to providing relief from the mental discomfort of anxiety, nitrous oxide can also work on one of the main physical symptoms of anxiety – tense, tight muscles.

By gently working on the muscle in order to promote relaxation, nitrous oxide can help patients to limit counter-productive activities such as jaw clenching.

A relaxed patient is also less likely to experience a high level of discomfort, as research shows that sensitivity to pain increases the tenser that a person becomes.

With so many advantages, it is little wonder that nitrous oxide is the tranquillising drug of choice for a growing number of dental practices across the country.

Who is Nitrous Oxide Suitable For?

Because nitrous oxide has few side effects, it can be used safely on both adults and children. The dose can be easily modified to the needs of each patient, so there is little danger of over- or under-dosing. Generally, nitrous oxide is recommended when:

  • There is a high level of anxiety
  • A child is being treated who is likely not to comply without some form of tranquilizing
  • A patient is a person that has a low pain threshold.
  • The procedure is an invasive one and the patient needs to be kept as comfortable as possible
  • Patients who are likely to gag during treatment

Nitrous oxide Q and A

– Can I drive after taking nitrous oxide?

Yes! Driving is safe once use has been discontinued, as nitrous oxide passes swiftly from the system.

– Will I be conscious?

Yes! Patients are fully conscious and able to speak and interact at the same time as using nitrous oxide

– Will I need to recover for a while before leaving the surgery?

There is normally no reason why patients cannot drive, shop, work or engage in other normal daily living activities.

– How safe is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide has been used as a tranquilliser for centuries as is widely recognised as being extremely safe for people of all ages, including those who have pre-existing medical conditions.

– Is nitrous oxide right for me?

The best person to talk about regarding the suitability of nitrous oxide as a tranquilliser is your dentist. They will complete a full medical assessment before determining whether nitrous oxide is going to be right for you.