I had a lot of angst about going to the dentist in pre-COVID times. Since the pandemic hit, that angst went through the roof and I kept putting it off: the thought of having a dentist and techs a few inches from my face when I couldn’t wear a mask gave me the willies. But I finally got a cavity that led to a nasty toothache, so my time was up and I had to go. But how could I do it with a minimum of risk, especially now (September 2022) that everyone was pretending it was over?
The answer: nitrous oxide. Laughing gas.
Okay, here me out. The goal is to avoid breathing in unfiltered (room) air, right? You’re sitting there with your mouth open, breathing through your nose (mostly), and there are very, very few mask options (almost none, really) that cover only your nose.
But the nitrous oxide mix, of course, is sterile. So if you’re breathing that into your lungs…you’re not breathing room air. It sounded like a good theory.
In practice…I think it worked. They administer it through a little cup of a mask they put over your nose. Before I got loopy, I checked to see if gas was still escaping around the mask when I was slowly inhaling: it was. That meant the gas from the mask was not only filling my lungs, but was keeping the room air out. The trick after that was to consciously not breathe in through my mouth. Considering that a pair of hands, instruments, drills, and the kitchen sink were all in there at once, that wasn’t too hard.
And I was able to wear my N95 the entire time I was in the office right up until they put the nose mask on with the gas flowing, and I put the N95 back on right after they took the nose mask away.
So, that was Tuesday, and it’s now Saturday: so far I seem to be okay. Fingers crossed.
For those who haven’t had nitrous oxide, it’s something that any reputable dentist should have on hand. The practice where I’m going I believe offers it for pretty much any procedure, from cleanings on up. It doesn’t knock you out, but makes you sort of high, I guess you might say, and reduces – or eliminates – anxiety. The dentist can also adjust the mix to get you more or less “high.”
But with regard to COVID, even if I took some room air into my lungs, I suspect 99% or more was nice, sterile gas. And it made getting my teeth drilled a lot less traumatic!