Laughing Gas (Nitrous Oxide) in Pediatric Dentistry

Nitrous oxide, commonly referred to as “laughing gas,” is often used to make dental treatment more comfortable, especially for children. But what exactly is laughing gas, and what makes it so helpful (and necessary) in pediatric dentistry? Hopefully we can answer many of the questions you might have about it in this blog post.

When a Child Has a Cavity…

No parent wants to hear that their child has a cavity, but it sometimes happens even in spite of excellent habits at home. If your child needs treatment but has the wiggles or a sensitive gag reflex, laughing gas is a great option. Dr. Ball might recommend its use to help keep your kiddo more comfortable and relaxed during their procedure.

What Exactly Is Laughing Gas?

Laughing gas, scientifically referred to as nitrous oxide, is an odorless gas that gets mixed with oxygen for delivery and is inhaled via a nose mask. Laughing gas is considered a mild sedative and is often used in dentistry, including pediatric dentistry, to help manage patient discomfort and anxiety during treatment. 

Is Nitrous Oxide Safe for Kids?

The American Dental Association regards nitrous oxide as a safe sedative agent for certain dental procedures. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry (AAPD) also recognizes it as a safe method for reducing anxiety in pediatric patients. Nitrous oxide has an excellent safety record when administered by trained professionals. 

When Would Dr. Ball Recommend the Use of Nitrous Oxide?

Dr. Ball might recommend laughing gas for a number of reasons, including:

1. A long procedure

2. A difficult procedure that involves the use of an injection for numbing

3. When a child is fearful or gets nervous easily

4. When a child has trouble sitting still

5. When a child has a strong gag reflex and/or strong tongue that makes their oral environment challenging to work in

6. When a child has certain special needs (e.g. sensory sensitivity)

The benefits of using nitrous oxide include: limiting unwanted movement or reactions during treatment, a raised pain threshold, an increased tolerance for longer appointments, reduced anxiety, and reduced gagging. Certain procedures, especially some types of fillings on baby teeth in particular, can be done without using a local anesthetic (injection of numbing medicine) if laughing gas is used. Being able to eliminate the need for numbing for certain procedures makes laughing gas especially appealing for pediatric dentists. This is because young kids, more so than their adult counterparts, are at higher risk of accidentally injuring themselves after a procedure by biting, chewing, or sucking on their numb tissues.

How Does Laughing Gas Work?

Nitrous oxide works in a matter of minutes as your child is instructed to breathe through their nose. As it takes effect, they will feel more relaxed and may experience euphoric feelings and "tingles", but they will not fall asleep. They will remain awake during their procedure, and we still use our “tell, show, do” methods to continually communicate. Having TVs on the ceiling as an additional visual distraction is very helpful as well.  

Once the nasal hood is removed, the effects will immediately begin to wear off, unlike with some other forms of sedation. There are no restrictions on a child’s activity after the use of laughing gas, so they are able to return to school if they have an early morning appointment. 

What About Other Types of Sedation?

Laughing gas, while very useful in many situations, isn’t always the best option, and Dr. Ball may recommend alternative options for your child’s treatment. 

Sometimes we can accomplish our treatment goals using minimally invasive therapies without any type of sedation, and occasionally we need more profound sedation, such as general anesthesia, to complete a child’s dental treatment. We are happy to discuss treatment options with parents to choose the best option for their child.

Still Have Questions About Laughing Gas? Just Ask!

If you’d like to know more about laughing gas for your child’s dental treatment needs, we would love to answer your questions. Dental experiences in childhood last a lifetime — choose your child’s provider wisely! Give us a call or schedule an appointment, so that we can discuss this and any other dental health concerns you may have.

In Health and Happiness,

Dr. Bana Ball

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