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Laughing Gas and The Dentist: A Horror Story

Carolyn worked as a technical writer, software user interface designer, and as a gig writer way before it was hip.

Getting her to go to the dentist was like pulling teeth.

Steve Martin as the dentist.

Steve Martin as the dentist.

Little Shop of Horrors (1986) I'm a Dentist Song

Our family has a way of finding the bizarre ways of living through the most mundane daily events. Take the dentist for example. A member of my family (who shall not be named, because I promised), had a horrifying experience at the dentist today. Personally, I am trying to decide if I can categorize today's experience as humorous or horrifying, or possibly both. Today's little horror story is also a tale of triumph and tragedy, so it ought to be a good one for you to read, and not just skim. Though I think that more than a few of you will think I'm a bad mother for sharing this story at all.

The story begins two days ago, when we arrive at a new dental office at our new city for a long overdue dental checkup. The person in the dentist's chair is growing up fast and unfortunately has several teeth growing in on top of each other. With so many teeth and not enough mouth, my anonymous family member was long overdue for an extraction. Extraction is just a fancy term for pulling teeth, and my anonymous friend needs to have 5 teeth pulled.

Having five teeth pulled is...well...let's just say I'm glad it's not me that needs this procedure. We all knew it was inevitable, but the reality of having that many teeth pulled would be daunting, even for a mature adult. I am personally quite anxious when I go to the dentist. My teeth are pretty healthy and strong, fortunately, but just writing about it conjures up the unpleasant sounds and smells of being in a dentist's chair with a loud drill grinding away at the teeth in my mouth. And worse yet, the smell of pulverized teeth mixed with the stomach-sickening stench of Novocain...It makes me a little dizzy. But back to the hero of my story.

My story's hero was prepared for the extractions, and walked bravely into the dentist's office where they perform their work. She was really brave, and I was so proud of her. She sat calmly in the dentist's office without flinching. But she was nervous. Very nervous. Her body was stiff as a board and the dental assistant kept reminding her to breathe. She really doesn't like shots, and the dentist was going to need to give her several in order to numb the area of her mouth where the dentist was going to pull her baby teeth.

I try not to betray my anxiety when I take her to the dentist, but I get anxious myself when she goes in. She is very slow to react to Novocaine, and in the past has required extra shots of the anesthetic. One time the dentist started drilling on her tooth before she was completely numb and she screamed out in pain. I made sure to mention to the dentist, his office staff, and all of his assistants that she didn't react quickly to anesthetics and that they would need to closely monitor her. All out of her earshot, of course.

But this time, I kept my parent anxieties under control and she was a marvel of adolescent bravery. But the dental assistant who was prepping her for the dental extraction approached me and asked me if they could administer laughing gas, also known as nitrous oxide. She felt it would put the patient at ease and help her to relax.

I personally think laughing gas is great stuff. It makes you feel completely oblivious and turns an otherwise unpleasant experience into a trippy, almost out-of-body experience. It's the one time when it socially acceptable for even a nice tea-totaling Mormon girl to get high. In a carefully administered environment by licensed professionals, of course. But the hero of my story had no experience with nitrous oxide sedation, and she didn't know what to expect.

I took her hand in mine and asked her if she wanted to try some laughing gas. I told her I had used it several times at the dentist and that it would make her feel very relaxed and like she didn't care. She trustingly agreed, though she looked apprehensive. But she was pretty nervous already and I chalked it up to that.

The dental assistant brought over two large tanks of gas--one of oxygen and one of nitrous oxide--and rolled it beside the dental chair. She placed a bright yellow foam mask by her mouth and invited her to place it on her nose. The patient hesitated. For a long time. The dental assistant said, "Don't worry, we'll just start out with the oxygen and then add some of the laughing gas in a minute."

Reluctantly the patient placed the mask over her nose. "Now breathe in through your nose and keep your mouth closed," the dental assistant coaxed. Soon the patient's pupils were dilated and her tight grip on my hand relaxed. I noticed on the numeric gauge the dental assistant had the laughing gas at a 4. The patient clutched at the mask and started trying to rip it off of her nose. "I feel really funny" she said in a sedated voice that wasn't hers.

"Yes, that's normal" the assistant said, but then she also firmly reminded "don't take the mask off. YOU CAN'T REMOVE THE MASK LIKE THAT." Her voice had an edge of alarm to it that made me extremely nervous.

"Here, we'll just turn down the gas a little to make you more comfortable." Now the nitrous oxide was set to the 2 setting. The assistant turned to me and said "sometimes we have to adjust the settings to make sure they're comfortable."

Now suddenly the patient is sitting upright on the table and crying, wailing even. She seems deeply upset and distressed. The crying is loud and frightening. It reminds me of the way that my three year old wakes up, startled sometimes, after his afternoon nap. When he wakes up like this, he is dazed and inconsolable.

Now the dentist is walking into the room. He takes one look at the patient, throws his hands into the air in a gesture that says "I give up!" and remarks out loud to everyone in the room "I'm not working on her. She'll need to see a pediatric dentist." The patient continues to cry on the chair. Hot tears are spilling from her cheeks onto her clothes.

The assistant turns to patient on the dental chair and says "KEEP THE MASK ON, we need to keep it on for a few minutes until we get the gas out of your system." Now her voice is full of soothing tones and comforting words. "It's okay, baby. You're done now. No need to cry." The mask is off, and the patient continues in fits of uncontrollable sobbing.

The dentist stands next to the patient, and asks her why she is still crying. We're not going to do anything. You can stop crying now, he says. He seems distressed and a little exasperated. I can't blame him and I'm also a bit embarrassed.

The office staff is now ushering us quickly back into the waiting room. No need to disturb the other patients. They all really seem concerned and offer us a referral to a pediatric dentist in town. "They'll give her a nice cocktail full of drugs and she can be put to sleep. She won't feel a thing, and she'll be asleep before you know it. Of course, they'll have to give her a shot to put her down. And you should be prepared for the shaking. The kids get really shaky when they're recovering from the general anesthesia.

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As we are leaving the building, all traces of bravado completely erased from my patient's demeanor, I ask her what happened back there. Why did you get so upset? I felt so terrible for her, but I needed to understand what had happened.

"When you told me that I was going to have laughing gas, I thought that I would feel light and care-free. But it didn't feel like that at all. I felt heavy and I couldn't move my hands. I couldn't feel my body and I felt my consciousness slipping away. It was really scary. Yeah, for a while I didn't care, except suddenly I WAS aware again. How much of the procedure did they do before I woke up?"

"You were out for less than five minutes, then you took another five to recover."

"Oh." There was a long pause.

"But I still don't understand why you got SOO upset."

She paused, thoughtfully. Then she looked at me. "When I was waking up, I suddenly remembered that dentist from Little Shop of Horrors. He was addicted to laughing gas, and he was really crazy.Then he overdosed on it and died. Then that guy with the plant came and chopped him up into little pieces and fed him to the plant."

"I see." I said, my stomach churning a bit. "That sounds really yucky."

"Yeah," she said.


Want to hear how the story ends? Read the harrowing conclusion in Laughing Gas and the Dentist Part Two: Sedation Dentistry at its Finest.

© 2009 Carolyn Augustine


Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on March 12, 2012:

Thank you. I think Steve Martin did a disservice to teeth.

thedentists on March 08, 2012:

Very funny and Hub. Steve Martin sort of created a generation of people afraid of the dentist. I suppose that laughing gas can also help overcome a person's fear. Just joking...;)

Moiz Ahmad Khan from USA on January 12, 2012:

Love your Hub

Dentist in Bradford Ontario on June 13, 2011:

Wow, that does sound like a pretty terrible experience.

Not all dentists are the same :-)

media on February 04, 2011:

This is not funny at all. What a stupid dentist with no bedside manner

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on September 19, 2010:

Thanks Riley, I appreciate that heads up. I'm fixing the link now!

Riley :D on September 18, 2010:

Hey, I found that story inspirational and humorous! But the link to the "Part Two" Does not work, And i could not find it when I searched on the main page. Could you help me out?

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on August 22, 2010:

Thanks for your comment and I hope you will return the favor and link back to my article!

Dentist Gainesville on August 22, 2010:

"I found a dentist that is great. No needles and no gas. She gives me 2 little pills, next thing I know I am at home. lol" - never heard of such a method before. Where are you from or better said, where is your dentist from ? :)

kitty2010 on August 13, 2010:

yikes that sounded terribly scary, i feel so sorry for your 'friend' i hope the pediatric dentist trip will fare better.

I feel incredibly lucky, i was scared of the dentist as a kid but i faced my fear and im not scared to go anymore. the strangest thing i'm fine on my own but if i go with my mum i get incredibly anxious.

one thing for sure, i do NOT look foreward to when my dentist retires lol.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 21, 2010:

I agree laughing gas can be great if it doesn't have adverse affects. I'm glad that we took her to a pediatric dentist in the end. Thanks for leaving a comment.

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on July 21, 2010:

Yes it is great! I am deathly afraid of the dentist

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 15, 2010:

Sounds like my kind of dentist!

Granny's House from Older and Hopefully Wiser Time on July 15, 2010:

I found a dentist that is great. No needles and no gas. She gives me 2 little pills, next thing I know I am at home. lol

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on July 01, 2010:

Nell, how did I miss that comment? That sounds just horrible! I'm glad you survived.

Winsome, sounds like your son is a brave soul. My daughter is slow to react to the numbing agent but she would never dream of just skipping it. Laughing gas--that's a different matter. It doesn't seem to affect her the way other things do.

Winsome from Southern California by way of Texas on July 01, 2010:

Hi WBW, now I understand why my eldest son refuses shots. He just has the dentist work on him and says he's fine. Been that way for years and he's still ok with it--whewww! I just take the shots and talk the dentist talk-"Ob fide udock, cudthiderig" =:)

Nell Rose from England on June 17, 2010:

Hi, I don't know whether to laugh or totally understand! lol I haven't tried that but I did have a dentist that I named the butcher! he numbed the wrong teeth, he drilled the wrong teeth, and on top of that he filled a tooth on top of an absis! Ow! never again! I feel so sorry for her for having this experience, especially as she had seen that film! Nell

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on June 07, 2010:

Quinton9, thank you. I am so sorry that you had a horrible experience but I respect your privacy.

quinton9cherry on June 07, 2010:

Very interesting article. I've also had a bad experience with laughing gas. It was too horrible to share, but it's good to know that I'm not the only one that feels this way.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on May 17, 2010:

Thanks. I've been surprised by the lengthy comments this article has generated. Just goes to show that going to the dentist is a less-than-favorite activity for many!

DentistWestPalm from West Palm Beach on May 15, 2010:

Getting anybody to go to the dentist is really like pulling teeth - I hate going to the dentist.

Great topic of discussion - your hub has very useful and interesting info.

Keep up the good work - look forward to seeing more of your work

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on April 18, 2010:

Mike, I don't know how to respond to your long reply, except to say I'm sorry you suffered so much. I hope your dental experiences get better. All of these stories underscore the importance of doing your homework when you are looking for a new dentist. If you haven't signed up for HubPages you should. You could give your desire to write a place to shine.

mike on April 17, 2010:

You are probably not wrong. Here's a long story. I always used the same dentist when I was young,I've had root canal procedures done,teeth prepped and capped,cavities drilled and filled,and fillings.UNTIL the dentist closed....He was an older man and retired.I shopped through the yellow book for a new dentist figuring that college had trained them for dentistry but looking for one with the smaller,"bedside manner" things that make one feel better.I'm sorry I didn't tell you why.I had a filling that had fallen out recently,and thought I noticed a cavity forming on another tooth.So I made an appointment...he asked me which tooth I thought had a cavity and started looking around....I noticed the "apprehension" (I think that's the word for it) on his face and said that I was aware of the missing filling and hoped it didn't look too bad. He said something,about they usually need to be replaced.He had stepped back now and asked me when the filling was put in (This will get MUCH more interesting).I told him I thought it wa like 8 years,and asked him if my wisdom teeth were coming in because of the great deal of pain.then I told him I'd heard of people having them pulled because of it.SOOOO,he gave me a needle and got a drill.I thought he was filling my cavity or cleaning my old filling.As I said ,I've had work done before.I noticed he seemed to be drilling a little deep.As I became more concerned he started to hit nerves...this had never happened before.After much concern,he stood up and said I would have to return in a week..I said no problem and went out to make the next appointment.I got home and three days later was greeted a great pain like I couldn't believe.I looked in my mouth and noticed a few missing teeth.The pain was so bad I wasn't sure if I could make the trip to the dentist.I got a pair of strong tweezers and grabbed what remained of the tooth and started pulling it out in pieces.I pulled and cleared while moaning in pain until I'd pulled enough to make the pain go away.I made an appointment at another dentist.This time to have everything I'd seen there pulled.Coming to a modern hospital type dentistry office,I was wondering what to expect.After the wait,She looked into my mouth and asked how bad the pain was.I told her and said I just wanted them pulled...leave the empty space.She got some rub on anesthetic and put on a LARGE gob (I actually appriciated what I thought was her concern for my pain)AND THEN she walked to prepare a needle...I was quickly going very numb from the gel so I asked her if I needed the needle...SHe said without flinching the needle was to numb the area and the gel just numbed the surface. Again she was very kind and I asked if we could use a little less...(The point of this story is I have been near to the end from almost drowning and felt the faintness of blood loss). Well she went ahead and injected it.Shortly thereafter I started to fell very familiar to NOT WELL.I jumped up,asked what happened and said I would be leaving ASAP.After a few days,I tried to pull the tooth again..after more moaning,some chiseling and a small hammer it started to get productive...I had a almost completely removed teeth and just left a filling too rooted to pull (probably still living).I had some pain so I called ANOTHER dentist and asked for an apointment to have whatever might remain pulled and the last one either pulled or capped.(SWEETY YOU AREN'T WRONG ABOUT THE PROBLEMS WITH PAIN KILLERS THERE)I went in and quietly suggested an X-Ray,he took one and poked around some ,mentioning the one tooth missing a cap.I said it was a bother and would like to possibly have it capped While glancing at the X-ray readout....THIS WAS GOOD NO LEFT BEHIND PARTS PARTS NOTICABLE.He gave me a needle and said something about cleaning it up.I noticed he was using a large needle and not bashful about pushing the plunger.I bared with the sickness as he started working,but soon there was pain. He asked if I wanted gas (I'm not sure,but I think it's not safe to mix those)I said I had never tried it and wasn't sure what to expect.He said he would start it on low and I could see how it worked. After all this poking I was still looking for some filler or extractor and all he had was scalpels,scissors,and needles..What the hell. ANYWAY,I started to feel that YUCKY feeling and yanked the mask I WAS NOT TO REMOVE from my face.THis time I started yelling..Yes,I had almost drowned no I think I know that feeling,You need pliers to remove a tooth,ect. I left there with I not terrible view of dentistry.I am having some pain from the Uncapped tooth now and have noticed the ones I pulled have grown back the same as the first time,but I'll try to work it out.I also tried one dentist soo foreign I had to leave because I couldn't understand her directions in the office.welcome

mike on April 17, 2010:

what the hell is the medical profession of dentistry learning ?

Reicheru on February 24, 2010:

I had to go to the dentist yesterday and they gave me laughing gas and they said it would be like I was high, only less dangerous and I would feel relaxed and carefree. I am 13 and I have 5 cavities that I need to get filled and they were going to do 2 yesterday, but when they gave me the mask I put it on my face and they said to breathe through my nose, so I did. At first nothing happened. Then my breathing pattern became twitchy and some breaths it took a lot of effort to make. I though it might have just been because I was nervous, but it became worse and all of the sudden all of these things happened at one time: I couldn't breathe AT ALL, my head felt like it was being crushed, like when you swim all the way to the bottom of a deep pool and you feel like your head is going to implode, my face became numb and tingly and I couldn't feel it, and I literally felt like I was being poisoned and I was gonna die. I couldn't see anything either. When I told them I felt funny and I couldn't breathe my voice sounded really low but I could tell by the way I was talking that that wasn't the way I sounded. When they told me not to take the mask off, they sounded really far away even though they were right next to me. But I couldn't stand it. If I had left it on any longer I was going to pass out from from lack of oxygen. As I lifted my arms to take of the mask I realized they were tingly and numb like my face and I could barely lift them. But I did and ripped the mask off and immediately sat up. I told them what it felt like but they said it was supposed to feel like that. They didn't offer to turn it down a little, or anything. I'm like "It's supposed to feel like I'm dying?" I mean seriously that was the most horrible thing I ever experienced. He said that he didn't understand because everyone else loved it and wanted more of it. My dad told me if I didn't put it back on he was going to ground me and I'm like "I DON'T CARE I'M NOT LETTING YOU PUT THAT THING ON MY FACE AGAIN!" I told them everything. I told them exactly how it felt and then they started talking to each other about how I was probably making it up because I was afraid to get my teeth pulled but I wasn't afraid of that because I thought the gas was supposed to make it not hurt. I told them that but they just looked at me like I had no clue what I was talking about, like I was stupid or something. I tried not to cry but I couldn't help it. I started bawling remembering how awful it felt and they weren't believing a word I said. My own dad wouldn't listen to me. So I just stayed quiet (other than the fact that I was sitting there bawling). They recommended that I go to another different dentist and get sedated. They said I would drink the medicine that would knock me out. They said I would feel sleepy and go to sleep. So we left and when we were getting in the car my dad said that as soon as he tells my mom she's going to be very angry at me and that she would probably ground me. He said he was angry too. Like I could freaking help it! I knew if I told her she would believe me. I didn't say anything on the ride home but as soon as I got home I ran to my mom and told her everything and she believed me. She asked my dad why he would ever think I was making it up and that he was being stupid for assuming that. She made me feel a lot better. Then she told me how she went there and how the dentist there are jerks and that I didn't ever have to go there again, because they did the same thing to my brother.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on January 05, 2010:

Keith, feel free. She is now completely free of those naggling baby teeth. I like your response. It is how I felt too.

Keith Schroeder from Wisconsin on January 05, 2010:

Wow. I want to laugh, but don't know if I should.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on December 01, 2009:

scheng1, those are strong remarks. I hope that your dental experience isn't that bad. In medieval Europe the dentist was also the local surgeon. Want teeth removed? Go to the dentist. Want a leg amputated? Go to the dentist. Our experience at the dentist was so bad because my daughter is morbidly afraid of going to the dentist AND getting a shot. The dentist we visited was actually very competent. It's a shame the laughing gas didn't work better.

scheng1 on December 01, 2009:

My goodness! 5 teeth extraction. I prefer to die than suffer the trip to the dentist

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on October 30, 2009:

Thank you!

Susan Sisk from Georgia, USA on October 30, 2009:

That was great! Hope she did good at the pediatric dentist.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on October 22, 2009:

RNMSN, you said it! It was one bad trip. Poor kid. I am going to take her to a pediatric dentist and have her sedated. She's spent a lot of time suffering in the dentist's chair. The dentist we took her to seemed competent and very nice, but there were tertiary issues, too. I happen to be his son's Sunday School teacher. I don't know why that makes a difference, but knowing him on a semi-personal level like that made it all pretty weird.

Apparently there's a dental school very close nearby because we have a ton of dentists who go to our church. I don't think I'd want to choose dentistry as a profession after the experience with my daughter (I mean "friend".)

Apparently Shibashake and several other hubbers have also written dentist hubs similar to mine. I'm thinking that going to the dentist is so universally unpleasant that the experience offers a lot of inspiration for us writers. The ones who haven't written a dental hub haven't been in the chair for a while, maybe?

Thanks for your very sweet compassion and concern. :)

Barbara Bethard from Tucson, Az on October 22, 2009:

oh bless your baby girl!! OK, the dentist I had in ALA was young and so smart and so fantastic that I asked if he knew anyone who was just like him here in Arizona :) He said no but that Scottsdale is The Best Place For Dentistry!! I have a hard head and since I was born before...well OK, let it go that I have had every childhood disease except Polio OK? my memories of dentists are gauged along the same line as those of the Inquisition get the picture? Take that sweet baby to the yungest, newest, smartest dentist in this state and make sure he/she is a dentist that does it all, from baby teeth to crowns and root canals and for every age group! Dr Nebrieg said that is how they are being taught now/that there are less specialists because a dentist worth anyting should know it all!! Please Please!! interview the next dentist thoroughly!!!You can blame it on me!! but oh goodness do NOT tell your "friend" howhard I laughed at the shop of horrors retelling...a classic movie!!! poor baby, got high and had a Bad Trip...I didn't say that did you say that? and you a Mormon and all TSK TSK :)

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on October 22, 2009:

Well, Dahoglund, maybe just a little humor. Most of it wasn't funny at all. But some of the remarks the dental assistant made were so out there, how could I not find them funny? In any other context she could have been arrested for offering to drug up my kid with "a nice cocktail." Just goes to show how much power they have. Your experience with your daughter sounds very unpleasant. I remember having all four of my wisdom teeth done at once and then laying on our living room couch on Morphine for two days with my mouth all swollen up. It wasn't a pretty picture. After the extractions I asked my mom to buy me a chocolate shake. She looked at me in disbelief, said "are you sure?" and I said "of course!" But I regretted it after the fact.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on October 22, 2009:

Yars ago when my daughter was still a teenager she had to have four wisdom teeth pulled. She insisted she wanted them all done in one visit so she didn't have to go back. We went to a University dental school which was a distance from home.It seems like in our family anesthetic seem not to take easily.The oral surgery went fine but the anesthetic wore off before we got back home, which it was not supposed to do. We had pain killers but didn't know if it was safe to give them to her until we could contact the school (no cell phones back then.)My experience with laughing gas was one where it wore off or did not take before the work was even done.At least you found some humor in the situation.

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on October 22, 2009:

It's all true. Every single word of it. But it is funny. Just don't tell my daughter I said that.

Benny Faye Ashton Douglass from Gold Canyon, Arizona on October 22, 2009:

Thanks for a great laugh for today. thanks for sharing it. creativeone59

Carolyn Augustine (author) from Iowa on October 22, 2009:

Wow, I had no idea dohn, but now I'll have to go check out her hub and your comment. The whole orthodontia thing kind of snuck up on us. Unfortunately she still has a mouth full of baby teeth and that reminds me, I need to call that pediatric dentist. I wish I made this up. My daughter is very impressionable and sensitive. She saw LSH at a friend's house when she was about 10.

How do you manage to read my writing right after I've published something? That is so amazing. You rock!

Hello Hello, thank you. This wanders a little too close into the overly personal category but sometimes that makes for the best writing. Well, now I really must take a break and get my very very very very messy house and half-naked children the attention they deserve. Cheers.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on October 22, 2009:

Thank you for sharing your story with us.

dohn121 from Hudson Valley, New York on October 22, 2009:

I loved Little Shop of Horrors. I just mentioned that scene on Shibashake's hub about a week or so ago which was also about a dental visit (?) Kid's do the darndest things, eh? Great story. You are a natural storyteller!

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