The Zen of laughing gas

A new study has found that the effects of laughing gas on children receiving dental care varies widely.

In an article published in the current issue of Anesthesia Progress, researchers from the Department of Pediatric Dentisty, University of Washington, Seattle, explore whether a child’s disposition is linked to the successful use of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.

This form of sedation is often used by dentists treating children. Although children in general are prone to fear and discomfort in a dentist’s chair, research suggests that attitude is a key factor in how well a child handles a dental visit. However, no prior behavioural studies have looked solely at nitrous oxide use.

In this study, the researchers examined 48 patients, aged three to eight years, all of whom received dental care at the university-based clinic. The children’s caregivers completed a validated behaviour questionnaire, which the researchers used—along with data from the patients’ charts—to assess behaviour and sedation success during the dental visit.

When they focused on uncooperative children, the research team found that if scores were better in one temperament category, Effortful Control, laughing gas was more successful.  Children who did well in this category had specific behavioural traits. For example, they could easily stop doing something when told “no” and could focus and become absorbed in a task, such as looking at a picture book.

“It appears that children who are able to focus on a task and inhibit negative reactions are likely to be good candidates for treatment with nitrous oxide,” said lead author Travis Nelson.

Subscales of a few other characteristics were also helpful in predicting success during a dental visit.

The researchers concluded that those children who cannot focus might be better candidates for oral sedation or general anesthesia.

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