In TV shows and movies, I’ve always seen people get a severe case of the giggles when they inhale laughing gas. It always sort of freaked me out. I didn’t like how it changed their mood so much and made them go to sleep so quickly. I always took care of my teeth growing up, so I never had to have any major dental work done as a child. I was in my forties when I was told I would have to have my first root canal. The dentist told me that the procedure was invasive and could be quite painful, and that I could use sedatives if I wanted. At first I was against the idea. I didn’t know how laughing gas would affect me and I didn’t want to find out. However, a friend of mine sent me a link from the folks at Babylon Dental Care. Their website had some information on how a root canal works and as well as some information on sedatives. After reading about everything, I was more comfortable with using laughing gas while I had my procedure done.
Laughing gas is the nickname for nitrous oxide. It’s a colorless gas that smells and tastes slightly sweet. It’s been around as an anesthetic since the mid 1800s when a Dentist actually used it on himself! The gas works in several different ways throughout our body, relaxing both our physical body and our mental state. It stimulates activity within our GABA receptors. GABA receptors are part of our nervous system, and when the gas interacts with GABAs we experience reduced anxiety and nervousness.
The gas also causes endogenous opioids to be released within our bodies. Doctors aren’t entirely sure how the gas does this, but the effect is that our perception of pain is decreased. It’s like a painkiller through the release of chemicals in our own body.
Lastly, the gas released dopamine in our brain. Dopamine is one of the central chemicals works as a reward pathway. This release causes us to experience a sense of euphoria before going to sleep.
Although these effects are impairing, they are not permanent. They wear off completely after a few hours. When you inhale the gas at the dentist, they administer it through a mask that is mixed with the gas and oxygen. This removes the risk factors of taking the gas. The only way you can harm yourself with this gas is if you inhale it directly out of a compressed gas canister. No dentist would ever let you do that, so there’s no cause for concern there.
If you need to have an invasive dental procedure done, talk to your dentist about the use of sedatives. I would recommend asking about it, because they made my root canal go very smooth and I wasn’t awake for the really painful stuff. However, everybody is different, and you might have other health conditions that could affect your experience. Tell your dentist about any health conditions you have before taking a sedative like laughing gas. They will be able to answer your questions and give you the treatment that’s right for you.