A Brief History of Nitrous Oxide

Dental assistant administering nitrous oxideThose few moments just before a dental procedure can be a little tense, even for people who normally wouldn’t identify themselves as “afraid of the dentist.” Your dentist can take the edge off of that anxiety with nitrous oxide, a safe, reliable method that’s helped dental patients relax since the 19th century. Today, we’re taking a peek at the surprising history of nitrous oxide and exploring what the average patient can expect from this form of dental sedation.

From Recreational Drug to Dental Dynamo

British chemist Joseph Priestley first created nitrous oxide gas in 1772, but it wasn’t until the 1790s that Thomas Beddoes and James Watt first explored its possible uses in medicine, first as a treatment for respiratory ailments and then as a potential analgesic for surgery. The use of nitrous oxide as an adjunct to medical procedures didn’t catch on immediately. However, recreational use of nitrous oxide boomed, particularly at “laughing gas” parties, get-togethers where wealthy party goers enjoyed its relaxing, giggle-inducing effects. Another four decades would pass before Horace Wells, a dentist, used nitrous oxide to control pain during a tooth extraction in 1844.

In the 1860s, nitrous oxide came into common usage in the United States, thanks primarily to Gardner Quincy Colton, a dentist whose Colton Dental Associates clinics spread the popularity of inhalation sedation throughout the East Coast. To this day, dentists use laughing gas to help their patients relax and to amplify the effects of local anesthetic.

What to Expect from Nitrous Oxide

When administered by a trained and licensed dental professional, this routine sedation technique is safe for nearly all patients, even children. First, your dentist or a member of his assisting staff will place a soft mask over your nose and instruct you to breathe deeply. Within a few breaths, you will begin to feel relaxed and a little dreamy. The things going on around you might seem hazy, funny, or unimportant. Your dentist will ask you how you’re feeling throughout the procedure and the level of your sedation can be altered to better fit your needs. Once the procedure is over and the mask removed, your head will begin to clear and you should feel back to normal within a few minutes.

About Shawn Hofkes, DDS

With advanced training in oral and maxillofacial surgery and certification in oral and IV sedation, Shawn Hofkes, DDS is qualified to provide comfortable, advanced dental care from our state-of-the-art dentist office in Cerritos, CA. To schedule your appointment or consultation with Dr. Hofkes, contact us today. We proudly serve patients of all ages from Cerritos, Lakewood, Long Beach, Buena Park, and all surrounding communities.