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Friday, August 5, 2016

No Laughing Mattter

Gardner Quincy Colton was born on February 17, 1814, in Georgia, Vermont.  Colton may not be a household name, but many of you who suffer from dental phobia(s), may have him to thank for being the first person to administer nitrous oxide (which you know as laughing gas) a general anesthetic for surgical procedures.  

Image Source: oddballfilms.blogspot
Colton was somewhat of an ostentatious showman, who traveled around the country, lecturing on topics such as philosophy, chemistry and the telegraph. He had a formal medical education, but never actually graduated.  Instead, he quit medical school, after discovering that he had a calling to the stage. He was paid $535.00 for his initial demonstration of the use of nitrous oxide which happened to turn out as a moment of serendipity, if you will.   Though, I could not find out where the event occurred, I did find out how, and why, the gas was employed for the first tooth extraction.  

Gardner Quincy Colton
A Connecticut dentist, by the name of Horace Wells attended one of Colton's lectures where he was scheduled to be a volunteer for a molar extraction.  While he was there, another young volunteer suffered a laceration to his leg while under the influence of a moderate dose of laughing gas.  The young man's name was Sam Cooley.  Cooley reported no pain when the injury took place.  Wells was intrigued, as he thought that the effects of laughing gas, as it related to Cooley's injury, may be employed as a pain free way of having teeth extracted, as one may experience an inability to feel or to be aware of [dental] surgery.  "Wells' offending molar was extracted the next day in his office by his partner, dentist John Riggs (1810-1885). Gardner Coulton presided as anaesthetist."  -Source: general-anaesthesia.com

Dr. Horace Wells
Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is mixed with oxygen, and is frequently employed when one must undergo dental surgery.   It is known as "laughing gas" due to the euphoria after inhaling it.  In general, the gas has no color, it is not flammable, and has a "slightly sweet odor and taste."  It is inhaled by a small plastic mask that fits over the nose, and aids in relaxation. 

Colton then went to California with high hopes during the gold rush.  He never made any money and it is interesting to note that his brother Walter was the Civil Governor of state. 

In 1863, Colton returned East and established a successful company with two dentists, where he adapted the techniques of anaesthesia which he had practiced earlier.  Interestingly, no patient deaths occurred, as the laughing gas was mixed with oxygen to prevent asphyxiation, and it also prolonged the effects of nitrous oxide. 

Colton proffered advise on laughing gas' use:  "Instruct the patient to take full, deep and slow inspirations of the gas and hold the lips and nose so as to allow no particle of common air to enter and dilute the gas. By this means, anaesthesia will be reached in from forty-five to sixty seconds." 

During his practice, between 1864 and 1897, Colton and his associates reported that they successfully extracted teeth under the administration of nitrous oxide anaesthesia from tens of thousands of dental patients.

Dr Gardner Quincy Colton, died August 9, 1898, in Rotterdam, Holland. He had been visiting Europe, and preparing to return home when he succumbed death, brought on by old age.


"Laughing Gas" is also used as an oxidizer in rocket propellants, and in motor racing to increase the power output of engines. At elevated temperatures, nitrous oxide is a powerful oxidizer similar to molecular oxygen.

Mark C. Marchbanks, D.D.S., gave  this list, entitled, "Things that May Surprise You about Nitrous Oxide" on April 1, 2014:

"There is a lot more to nitrous oxide than just its use as a sedative. It may be unusual to say this about a gas, but there are a lot of interesting facts about it…

Bacteria in oceans and soil emit nitrous oxide.

The discovery that nitrous oxide helps to relieve pain happened in 1800, but it wasn’t really used for that purpose until 1844, and wasn’t widely used by dentists until the 1860s.

It is nicknamed “laughing gas” because of so-called “euphoric” effects of inhaling it. If you aren’t laughing up a storm after inhaling nitrous oxide, you may be reacting to it by just acting sleepy.

Most people usually experience five stages of sedation: light-headedness, a tingling sensation in the arms and legs, a warm feeling, a feeling of euphoria, and then a sleepy feeling.

“Laughing gas parties” with nitrous oxide were all the rage for the British upper class in the late 1700s.

Nitrous oxide is used in the food industry as well. It helps to give aerosol whipped cream volume. It is used in cooking spray as a propellant. It is used in bags of potato chips so the bags are puffy, which prevents your chips from being crushed.

Nitrous oxide can be used by women in childbirth, and is being used more and more often in hospitals and birthing centers. It doesn’t get rid of the pain, but it does take the edge off a bit. Many women like it because it can be used at any time during labor, there are no serious side effects, it doesn’t require an IV or catheter, and they can still move around during labor.

Nitrous oxide is considered very safe for your child to use while at the dentist. It will help them to relax. Once it is turned off it is flushed quickly from the body, and he or she can stay awake while the dentist is filling their cavity. However, younger children may not want to wear the mask for nitrous oxide, and it may make some children may feel nauseous.

The exact mechanism of how nitrous oxide works isn’t really understood. It seems to act on the brain in many different ways at once.

Many dentists offer scented nitrous oxide to their patients, which may include strawberry, vanilla, mint, or other scents to choose from.

Nitrous oxide works rapidly, and can relax a patient within 3 minutes. It is eliminated from the body about as quickly.

Patients who are afraid of needles may find that nitrous oxide relaxes them enough to face that needle poke.

If you are having nitrous oxide you may not want to have a big meal before you head to the dentist. A big meal combined with nitrous oxide may result in nausea. However, your stomach shouldn’t be empty either—a small meal hours before your appointment is best.
Nitrous oxide is cheaper than IV sedation.

No one is allergic to nitrous oxide. It is safe for those who have diabetes, epilepsy, liver, heart, or cerebrovascular disease, although if you have a respiratory disease you should discuss that with your dentist.