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News / January 9, 2009

Dental patients more suggestible under laughing gas

by Guy Hiscott

The pain-relieving effects of nitrous oxide – laughing gas – may be enhanced by suggestion or hypnosis, according to a new study by UCL (University College London).

The study’s findings – that people are more suggestible under the gas – mean that dental patients may benefit from being coached to relax while undergoing sedation.

Nitrous oxide (laughing gas) is commonly used by dentists to sedate their patients before treatment, but some dentists believe their patients also become more suggestible while under the influence of the gas.

A number of dentists trained in hypnosis find that their patients respond well to being spoken to in a quiet, hypnotic manner – the new findings suggest that these effects could be further enhanced with laughing gas.

The study found that the nitrous oxide boosted imaginative suggestibility by approximately 10%.

This effect was unrelated to participants’ expectations regarding the effects of the drug.

Dr Matthew Whalley, honorary research fellow at UCL, says: ‘Nitrous oxide is one of the most widely used yet least well understood anaesthetic gases and, until recently, relatively little was known about how it worked inside the body.

‘Many dentists use laughing gas to relieve discomfort in their patients, but our study suggests that combining the gas with instructions and suggestions to help them to relax and become absorbed in imagery, for example, might enhance the pain-relieving effect.’