Is Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas) actually an anesthetic, rather than a "relaxant"?

I’m scheduled to go undergo a dental procedure for a deep cavity.

The new dentist who will do this procedure uses Nitrous Oxide (Laughing Gas) with all his patients, not just children but adults too, for all routine procedures.

But I’m not clear on what this will do: the Web says that Nitrous Oxide “relaxes” people – but it’s not an actual anesthetic, is it? How strong of a pain suppressant is it? The problem is less about anxiety than actual pain. I have unusual sensitivity and prior dentists have always been angry with me for not responding to the max anesthetics they provided.

Personally, for me, it makes me high. It’s not relaxing at all. It makes my brain get all weird. When I had a wisdom tooth pulled a few years back the doc offered it to me. Having never tried it "under the care and supervision of a doctor’, I thought I’d give it a shot. I don’t recall if he just leaves it on to do the Novocaine* or if the intention was do leave it on during the entire procedure, but after about 2 minutes (before I even got any shots) I had him take it off.
The stuff is all fun and games sucking it out of a balloon, but that only lasts 15 seconds. I didn’t really want a half hour of it.

I’m not sure if you’ve had cavities filled, but once the Novocaine has taken hold, you honestly won’t feel anything at all, nothing. I know people have stories, but in general, once you’re frozen, just lay back and let them do their thing, you’ll be done in 15 minutes.
*Somewhere along the way, I recall hearing that it was just used to get people out of it for a few minutes so they can get them all loaded up with novocaine. For a lot of people those really long/big needles are what scare them (personally, needles have never bothered me).

Yes, you get a little high, for a qualified definition of what being “high” is (ex-pot smoker here). The “relaxant” effect is, in my experience, not because you get all, well, relaxed, with looser muscle tone, or slightly thicker-witted (drunkish/“stoned”) care for what’s going on out there.

It helps you think about far more pleasant and engaging topics. It’s a Distractant.* Remember–or, better, trust everyone who has said so–after the Novocaine you’ve got nothing to feel except water splashing around your throat, your jaw muscles a little tired from being stretched, and the slight sensations dimly felt from distant continents in the rest of your mouth.

What I’ve always appreciated about the effects of nitrous, and welcomed the opportunity since I don’t get high anymore, is what it shares with the high of marijuana: you start thinking really hard about other stuff (what the hell else you going to do lying there) which may include a dispassionate observation of what those hairy or freckled arms are up to, or realizing that that hum which made you think about your air-conditioner is coming from the drill (“huh, how 'bout that”)–basically not relaxing you per se, but distracting you by stoking your mental or emotional self absorption (especially groovy when you have music cranked up on headphones, which you should ask for if they offer it).

*I just invented this word. I should trademark it sell it to big pharm.

ETA: After having seen and discussed with my dentist the brilliant mad scene of the nitrous-crazed dentist in the remake of Little Shop of Horrors, he told me that yes, indeed, in his youth every now and then he’d take a break and chill out with the stuff for a short time.

What I hadn’t seen at the time were any movies of David Lynch.

Your dentist will use an anesthetic to block any pain at the immediate site. The dentist with use Nitrous Oxide relax the rest of you.

Dentist here, N2O is an anesthetic but not a very strong one at the levels that dentists use it. The primary dental use is relaxation. Like most meds its effect varies a bit between people. One of the nice effects is most people loose track of time with it. That helps with kids that are fidgety in the afternoons. Generally adults report mild relaxation, sort of takes the edge off. For the truly phobic it isn’t strong enough to have much effect. For most nervous people it works quite well. We use it in our office on about 75% of kids and maybe 5% of adults.

(Pharmacist here) Nitrous oxide can produce general anesthesia, but like RS said, not the way dentists use it. They mix it with too much oxygen for that to happen.

It’s actually making a comeback in obstetrical analgesia in some areas.

Nitrous Oxide can be used as a “general anaesthetic”, that is, if you take enough of it, it will knock you out. In smaller quantities, it’s a party drug. Ether (another traditional anaesthetic), is another anaesthetic that also can be used as a party drug. Chloroform is another.

My anaesthetist doesn’t think that opiates are “actual” analgesics, and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t think most anaesthetics are actually anaesthetic, so I’m not sure which anaesthetics I should count as “actual anaesthetics”. Since analgesics don’t work for you, the next approach is to make you not care about it. Knocking you out totally may be a bit extreme, but there are dentists that do that. If knocking you out totally is too extreme, then making you just enough “unconscious” so that you aren’t “conscious” of the pain is a reasonable next step.

Or to put it another way, giving you just enough of a party drug to make you enjoy the experience.

It’s nauseating to me. I don’t like needles in my mouth, but I hate barfing at the dentist office worse.

I use nitrous for all procedures which would otherwise require novocaine. The pain blocking is nearly 100% effective. My dentist uses it himself, as he keeps telling me.

Modern practice is to mix it with so much oxygen that no high is produced. It therefore also doesn’t knock you out. You’re sort of distant. If I concentrate I can identify the background music playing and understand the conversation between the dentist and the nurse.

I started on nitrous in 1973. Back then, the mixture was much stronger. I did feel loopy under the gas and one time I found myself at the elevator without remembering walking from the office. Even so, my head cleared completely with a breath of outdoor air. Every dentist I’ve talked to since tells me they never let that happen these days.

The best part of nitrous for me is that there is no aftermath. No numbness, no swelling, no need to refrain from eating. As soon as I’m off the chair I’m good to go. I don’t understand why everyone doesn’t use it.

I asked for nitrous last year when I had to have a canine tooth pulled. It was primarily because of the huge needles for the novocaine. I don’t have any problem seeing or being around needles, but having them jabbing into the roof of my mouth is extremely awful, so I wanted it for that. It neither anesthetized me nor relaxed me. I felt dizzy but that’s all. A few months later when I went back to have the implant put in, I skipped the nitrous and just dealt with the needles.

My dentist years ago suggested nitrous to deal with my troublesome tongue, which seemed to have a mind of its own during cleanings or other dental work. No matter how much I tried to control it, my tongue would go wherever they were working and poke around, getting in the way. Weird, since I wasn’t especially tense or bothered by going to the dentist.
The nitrous just relaxes me enough that my tongue settles down. I like it now because it’s just a little bit of pleasantness without getting high or passing out, and it takes the edge off that scraping sound during a cleaning.
And it does make me lose track of time. I once had a bunch of fillings replaced all at once and was in the chair for hours. Didn’t mind a bit.

Hate to be a downer here, but the shot of Novocaine always hurt like hell for a moment.

And, somebody here who knows correct me, dentists use…Lidocaine?

I’ve had a lot of cavities in my life for a variety of reasons. The shots in the back of the mouth have always been unpleasant. The shots in the front of the mouth literally made me cry. My dentist was super cool about it though. He said everyone cries when they get them. I felt like a cry baby.

I’ve never had nitrous offered to me and mostly manage my anxiety by having a really cool dentist, breathing techniques and using the lead blanket they put on you for x-rays just all the time.

Over here it is the anaesthetic of choice for all kinds of trauma and childbirth. Commonoly called ‘gas and air’ Entonox is a colourless, odourless gas made up of half oxygen and half nitrous oxide. Paramedics will administer it at the roadside and midwives in the delivery room.

I never thought it had much effect on me, but I took a lot of drugs in my younger days, so my expectations may have been too high.

Dentist here. Mostly correct. Novocaine was replaced very quickly when lidocaine came on the market in the late 40’s. Sort of like CD’s replacing LP’s in a few years after their introduction. Since then Septocaine has replaced Lidocaine as the most used dental anesthetic. Septo came on the market in Europe in the mid 70’s IIRC and is something like 90% of the market there. Came to the US about 15 years ago and I believe about 60% of the market now. Great stuff, I haven’t used anything else in a dozen or so years.

TMI Septocaine is more lipidophilic them other local anesthetics. Bonds to the fatty covering of the nerve better thus getting faster and more profound anesthesia.

Actually, my dentist offered it to me because I always ask for no Novacaine. My thinking is I’d rather have five minutes of intense pain than hours of numb lips.

But one time he gave me nitrous, and I explained afterwards, “I still felt the pain, I just didn’t really give a shit about it…”

I cannot imagine having drilling done with no deadening. Yikes!
The lil’wrekker is a panic stricken dental patient. It’s hard to get her in a chair even for cleanings. I started taking her to a ‘painless’ dentist when she was a young teen. They use ‘propynol’ ( probably mispelled). I had to fight the insurance company to get them to cover it. It was either that or an operating table. We did go to a dental surgeon last year for her wisdom teeth. The insurance co. never batted an eyelash over that more expensive ordeal.