Inhalation Sedation for Dental Phobia


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You’ve probably heard something about laughing gas and its use in dentistry, and that is a perfect example of an inhalation sedative. An inhalation sedative is a great way to calm patients who suffer from a dental phobia severe enough to either keep them away from the dentist’s or unable to undergo a procedure.

What is an inhalation sedative?

Sedatives are quite widely used as a treatment for anxiety, and as anxiety is a root problem in dental phobias, you can see why their use can be so relevant to dental phobias. ‘Inhalation’ refers to the mode of uptake, an inhalation sedative is, as the name suggests, inhaled rather than injected or ingested.

The inhalation sedative used in dentistry is nitrous oxide, more infamously known as laughing or happy gas. All you need to do is breathe in the gas, which is colourless and has no odour or irritating effect, and you are sedated. What that means is that you are relaxed, experience no pain, and in fact feel quite happy, all in about 5 minutes of inhalation. You might find yourself giggling a lot (hence the name), which was actually one of the reasons why laughing gas was used as a form of entertainment in the early 1800s.

Nitrous oxide as used in inhalation sedation is actually mixed with oxygen as inhaling pure nitrous oxide is only safe for short periods of time. You always need to be breathing in oxygen, and hence the importance of getting that oxygen regardless of whether you are inhaling the drug in or not. The concentration of nitrous oxide in the treatment as well as how long you are exposed to it are the factors that determine its effects. Broadly speaking, there are 5 different levels you can experience.

The first is light headedness, followed by a tingling sensation in your limbs, and thirdly warm sensations. The fourth stage is a sense of euphoria which some have described as akin to floating. The final stage is a state of deep sedation in which you can even dream!

Typically your dentist wants to get you to the point of euphoria, not sleepiness. If you start feeling sleepy you should let your dentist know as at this point it is likely that you are being over sedated and can experience unpleasant sensations like nausea.

How is inhalation sedation administered?

Laughing gas is typically stored in a compressed form, allowing it to be delivered by means of a simple mask. The quantity of gas and rate of its release can be easily controlled by means of knobs or dials on the canisters and apparatus. A tube stems from the gas canisters into a nasal hood which is placed over your nose, you will be asked to inhale via your nose, and before you know it you will be pleasantly sedated with your anxieties a distant and unpleasant memory.

Nowadays the masks tend to be fitted with a system to remove excess waste nitrous oxide, protecting your dentist from unwanted exposure to the substance. The inside of the mask itself is often scented for your comfort, coming in a variety of different flavours like strawberry and mint.

Is inhalation sedation for me?

If your phobia or anxiety is severe enough that it interferes with your oral health then a form of sedation is definitely worth considering. Largely where a necessary procedure is concerned, and if you find yourself unable to cope with having it done. Inhalation sedation doesn’t involve any needles which is great for anyone afraid of them, and as nitrous oxide has a pain killing effect it also means that you don’t have to have a local anaesthetic applied to your mouth.

Other advantages of inhalation sedation are, for example, the fact that it is fast acting, typically taking effect within 5 minutes. The level of sedation you are experiencing can be rapidly adjusted unlike other methods of sedation, meaning that by observing you the dentist or anaesthetist applying the sedative can adjust your sedation to your personal needs. While other sedatives work over a specific time period after a certain dosage is administered, you can be kept under the influences of nitrous oxide for however long you need to be.

There are no after effects of oral sedation, with all traces of nitrous oxide being removed from the body within 5 minutes of stopping its application. You are good to go and can drive safely after this, saving a lot of hassle and inconvenience. Finally this treatment is very safe, with very side effects which can be avoided by careful application.

Laughing gas is not the option for you if you find yourself uncomfortable with the effects of the medication. You might not feel comfortable breathing through your nose, or feel claustrophobic when the mask is put on, making this method less than ideal. There are of course some side effects to the administration of nitrous oxide, but these only occur in the event of over-sedation, and are easily reversed by lowering the quantity of gas you are being exposed to.


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