Does Laughing Gas Make You Laugh?

Child getting procedure

Nitrous oxide sedation has been around since the late 1700s. A British chemist/physicist published its sedative/analgesic effect for medical procedures at that time but was widely ignored by the medical community. The English society seemed to be more interested in the euphoria-inducing properties of laughing gas. For the next few decades, nitrous oxide became popular as a recreational drug and it was common for British upper class to organize ‘laughing gas parties’ for amusement. In the mid-1800s, traveling lecturers started to make public demonstrations of the effects of nitrous oxide inhalation on audience volunteers. One of those performers touring the United States and Canada was Samuel Colt, the famous inventor of the Colt 45 revolver.

It is said that these nitrous oxide demonstrations helped finance the prototype and production of Colt's first five-shot revolver. During one show in Hartford, Connecticut, a man under the influence of nitrous oxide injured his foot severely but seemed to be unaware of the injury until the effect of the gas was gone. This incident was noticed by a local dentist who happened to be in the audience, named Horace Wells, who realized that nitrous oxide must have had a painkilling effect. The next day, Horace Wells arranged an experiment in his office. He inhaled 100% nitrous oxide and had one of his molar teeth that were infected extracted by one of his assistants. He noticed that while he was under the influence of the gas, he experienced no pain although he remained fully conscious. This was the first use of nitrous oxide as a dental anesthetic in the history of dentistry.

Today, nitrous oxide sedation is widely used in dentistry to help patients relax during treatment. While it is often called 'laughing gas' many people do not actually laugh when using it. Nitrous oxide gas dulls the senses and can decrease anxiety with treatment.  We are happy to offer laughing gas for an appointment, some even like the effect during cleanings. The gas is transient, meaning it only works while you inhale it, so there is no after-effect. We place you on oxygen at the end of the appointment and you are safe to drive after a few minutes. Don't hesitate to ask about this if you are at all curious!