Laughing gas. When most people hear the term, right off they think of the “obvious” effects the word implies: continuous, unstoppable laughter. That’s not the effect at all that comes from inhaling the substance. Also known as nitrous oxide, laughing gas is widely recognized because of its name and the effects felt by patients on nitrous oxide: a woozy feeling as though they’re drunk, which in turn, makes them feel somewhat cheerful.
Laughing gas in the dental industry is a sedative, intended for use to ease squeamish patients. It was discovered in 1722, and its effects were first demonstrated by a scientist named Humphrey Davy after inhaling the substance to alleviate his own toothache.
Laughing gas works by initiating a feeling of light-headedness, effectively easing an anxious patient. When Humphrey Davy inhaled “three large doses” of the gas back in the day to help with his toothache, he remarked that the pain he felt from his toothache was “swallowed up in pleasure” for a few minutes.
Technically, that’s how laughing gas makes anyone feel. The gas incites a “happy drunk” feeling in patients; though patients don’t really laugh themselves hoarse when administered with the gas, it helps in calming them down while they are kept aware of their surroundings. This “zoning out” helps patients forget all about their fears as it also makes them feel a certain distance from the procedure being performed on them.