My 13 yr old daughter has a cavity. They plan on giving local anesthesia, with an option for laughing gas.

When I had teeth filled, I never recall getting laughing gas.

I'd like for her to learn the consequences of inadequate hygiene. And also want to avoid her becoming acquainted with a drug that is prone to abuse.

Would it be cruel for me to refuse the laughing gas?


A big thanks to all of you who responded. I will shell out the extra $25 for the NO2. I will try to find a way to make this a lesson rather than a treat.

The tooth fairy teaches children that they can sell body parts for money. - David Richerby

  • 51
    "I'd like for her to learn the consequences of inadequate hygiene." Allowing a child to feel pain when not necessary does not teach the consequences of prior actions, it teaches that going to the dentist hurts, it teaches avoidance of health professionals. Is that really the lesson you want her to learn, avoid doctors?
    – Bill
    Apr 26, 2011 at 17:34
  • 2
    This might sound bad, but if she's 13, her dental-hygiene habits are pretty much in place already.
    – corsiKa
    Apr 28, 2011 at 23:41
  • 6
    Make your daughter pay the $25 extra dollars as her lesson? Nov 17, 2012 at 0:50
  • 3
    As long as you have a local you aren't going to FEEL pain! I've had teeth filled and a general has never been an option for me!
    – L.B.
    Feb 10, 2015 at 23:51
  • 2
    Our first dentist when I was growing up never used ANYTHING for pain. I never had a cavity back then, but when I got my first one, years later, I declined because I thought it was normal to go without. Nov 18, 2016 at 15:23

10 Answers 10


At around the same age as your daughter, I was sent to a bad dentist who wouldn't believe me that the novacaine hadn't take effect, that I was in pain, in terrible distress, et cetera. For the next ten years I dealt with terrible dental phobia, to the point that I couldn't smile at myself in a mirror because I'd see my teeth.

Naturally, then, I'm in favor of anything that makes dental treatment more bearable. In fact, it wasn't until my teeth were literally rotting away that I found a dentist who also used laughing gas, which helped blunt the terror enough that I could sit still in the chair, and eventually helped me overcome my fears entirely.

On my last dental visit, I was chatting with my dentist, who mentioned that they see many fewer cases of dental fear these days -- kids have grown up with faster drills and better anesthesia, not to mention better dental hygiene -- so dentists are seeing fewer problems, especially of people who put off treatment because of fear, which usually makes the problem worse.

So... unless you'd rather risk your daughter developing a phobia about dental treatment that could stay with her most of her life, I'd say don't withhold a beneficent support.

My experience with dental nitrous is according to my dentists, textbook classic. For me, it actually doesn't blunt the pain that much, but makes the FEAR reaction to the pain transient. More like "OWWWWW!... huh, that was intense. I wonder what he's doing next?"

I submit you can learn just as much from that experience, with less trauma, than with a painful, horrible, possibly agonizing session.

  • 1
    This sounds exactly like what I went through. I don't remember anything about the experience, but according to my mother's account it took three people to hold me down in order to get my teeth filled. Decades later I found out that some people, or some teeth, have a double root system and need to be numbed in both roots. That has affected me for the rest of my life. Even though subsequent dental work has been done under the influence of some sort of sedative, the reason is because Novocaine literally doesn't work on me unless I am calm. Jun 14, 2018 at 16:37

Yes, it is cruel to subject a child to unnecessary pain because you are afraid that she might, at some later point, abuse a relatively benign and non-habit-forming substance.

First of all, anything associated with having a tooth drilled is unlikely to be considered fun and interesting. Second, if she's offered N2O at some later point (and she definitely will be), she's no less likely to try it if you make a big deal about it now than she would be if you treat it as a totally normal part of the dentists visit. After all, there's no better way to pique a teenagers curiosity than to forbid her to use it. Third, even if she does suck on a few whip cream cans as she goes through life, this doesn't mean that she is going to end up on the streets selling her body for whip-its. Fourth, if you make her go through a lot of pain that she knows she wouldn't be going through if she just had that magic N20, you're going to make it way, way more attractive to her... after all, you're exposing her to the negative consequences of not getting high on nitrous, which is probably exactly the opposite of what you want to do.

What you don't want is for her to think that N20 is a dangerous and weird substance, because you don't want her to think that the consequences of use are similar to the consequences of, say, huffing paint. You want her to realize that some things are safe when used as directed by a medical professional, and some things will turn her brain into pudding.

You should also consider the very real possibility that she or people she knows have already experimented with Nitrous (after all, it isn't hard to get), and that you turning supervised medical use into a great big deal is really just a way to convince her that you have absolutely no idea what the heck you're talking about when it comes to drugs.

  • Wait a minute, how do you know about whipped cream cans? :)
    – bobobobo
    Aug 16, 2012 at 3:19
  • I learnt that from comic legend Denis Leary. He suggested that the first person who figured that out should be hired by NASA to work on the space program :-) Nov 14, 2016 at 19:35

It's hard to classify a procedure without laughing gas as a "consequence" of poor hygiene when obviously the choice is up to you. If you decide for it to be a consequence, it will be a parental-imposed one rather than a natural one, and your daughter will consider it as such. Not that I'm against parental-imposed consequences in and of themselves, but something like working off the copay might be a better choice.

As for the potential for abuse, kids need to learn things like that are okay in moderation under controlled circumstances. Otherwise, she is going to wonder why some authority figures think it's okay and some don't and try to figure it out on her own. I would sit her down and explain your concerns. I would talk about the training and failsafe equipment dentists have to keep her safe and contrast that with the dangers of recreational use. I would tell her you trust her to be able to tell the difference between good uses of drugs and abuse, so you're leaving the decision to her. Whatever her decision, I would reinforce the responsible, mature reasoning she used to arrive at it.

She's probably already experiencing a fair amount of pain, and opportunities like this don't come around very often (hopefully). Also, the timing couldn't be more perfect. After all, if she hasn't already, she will be forced to make decisions about recreational drugs without your guidance very soon. I think the fact that you trusted her to make a responsible decision about drugs would stick with her a lot longer than some momentary discomfort.

  • +1 for paying off the copay. Also, how big of a problem is laughing gas abuse, really? Are there people selling pressurized canisters in back alleys? Apr 26, 2011 at 17:59
  • 1
    @JSBangs, you can get tiny canisters of it for whipped cream chargers. While not physically addictive, a lot of kids who won't touch or don't know how to obtain illegal drugs have no qualms about abusing easily obtained legal substances, unless taught otherwise. It also may not be laughing gas exactly, but something with similar effects that a friend says is "just as safe." Apr 26, 2011 at 21:24

Kirk, I'm not sure I understand your question clearly. Did you mean:

Is it cruel to deny any anaesthetic?
Yes that's very cruel and it's neither a suitable punishment nor a useful lesson.

Is it cruel to deny N2O in addition to the local anaesthetic?
No that's probably not a big problem (depending on several factors) but you should still consider allowing it. N2O is not a painkiller but useful against anxiety.

Nobody benefits from a fear of going to the dentist. I'm sure the entire experience, even with painkillers, will leave a pedagogically useful impression with your daughter.


I am 39, I was never was exposed to laughing gas. I always got the novocain shot. My son (8 yo) however, had to have his tooth removed and when the doctor offered laughing gas as he was afraid of the big needle. I didn't hesitate. The procedure went fine and my son didn't feel pain.

I don't see him ASKING for laughing gas nor does he "volunteer" to go to the dentist, so it's not like this laughing gas made an instant junkie out of him. And besides, how can kids abuse laughing gas? it's not like they can buy it at Walgreens.

Educate your child about drugs, but don't make them feel guilty for asking their doctors to feel less pain. Medications have a purpose. Categorically denying them when they're needed is cruel, yes.

  • Abuse of laughing gas is actually not as uncommon as you might think. Sometimes tanks of laughing gas do come into the hands of people looking to exploit it as a recreational drug. Tanks of it are used to fill balloons, which are then sold for recreational use.
    – user420
    Apr 25, 2011 at 19:05
  • 2
    Really? Everytime I get one of those Balloon kits it's Helium, can't remember when I've last seen Laughing Gas since I was 8.
    – MichaelF
    Apr 26, 2011 at 16:41
  • Nitrous isn't all that hard to obtain. creamright.com. On the other hand, it isn't all that hard to obtain because its fairly harmless. There are tons of things to worry about in this world--such as airplane glue--that are easier to get and way more harmful.
    – philosodad
    Apr 27, 2011 at 12:52
  • The balloon kits with laughing gas are more typically seen sold at concert venues for groups of specific demographics. And while it may seem generally harmless (the effects from the balloons wears off after just a couple of minutes), it does involved depriving the brain of oxygen, and abuse can, in extreme situations, cause permanent brain or nerve damage. dartmouth.edu/~healthed/groups/dapa/otherdrugs/no.html
    – user420
    May 12, 2011 at 17:00
  • 3
    all drugs can be abused. However, the fact that they can be abused isn't really a good argument for not using them when appropriate.
    – DA01
    Jul 3, 2011 at 23:59

I think that depends in part upon how your daughter reacts to pain.

People tend to have different levels of tolerance for pain. Some handle it better, and other worse. The laughing gas is likely optional due to people's varying capabilities of pain tolerance.

If your daughter falls into the "sensitive to pain" spectrum, then yes, denying her additional pain alleviation just to "teach her a lesson" would be pretty cruel, imo.

Even if your daughter handles pain pretty well, you should still consider leaving it up to her if she wants the laughing gas. Explain to her the negative effects (poor coordination, inability to make good decisions, possibly embarrassing behavior, etc..), and let her make an educated decision.

I think being subjected to having to sit through a tooth filling procedure, with its attendant sounds (drill on bone), smells (burning bone and enamel), and discomfort (mouth propped open with a vacuum tube sucking out your saliva) is more than enough of a lesson on the consequences of inadequate hygiene.

As for not wanting to expose her a drug that is "prone to abuse", I think you may be being a bit overly sensitive here. Yes, N2O is abused by people, however, denying her a legitimate medical use of it is probably not going to send the message you intend. You are better off engaging her in active dialog about the harmful potential of abuse (most notably brain damage or death).

  • I think you're a bit off-base to talk about "negative effects". NO2 is a suitable anaesthetic for minor medical procedures because it wears off quickly. IIRC, some patients can even drive themselves home safely after receiving NO2 in the doctor's office. Nov 14, 2016 at 19:37
  • Nowhere in my answer did I say the side effects don't wear off quickly, so I'm not sure how you reached the conclusion that I was "off-base"... or are you arguing that there are no negative effects while under the effects of laughing gas?
    – user420
    Nov 14, 2016 at 19:45
  • @DanielAllenLangdon - Beofett is indeed correct about the harmful potential of Nitrous Oxide, aka laughing gas. It is a common agent of abuse among anesthesiologists, and has caused death in a number of cases. Nov 14, 2016 at 22:33

I think to enable them to understand more about dental hygiene, would be to explore poor dental hygiene together on the Internet. Being English, and of a certain age, my teeth are poor, in general. I have fairly crooked teeth - on an English level, not too bad, but not straight at all, and not bright white. I sometimes show my kids my teeth and say to them, "Do they want teeth like this?" It normally makes them brush them. I have also been known to find gruesome images on the Internet, and make some mock horror noises, to which my kids are always drawn, and unsolicited, they'll ask what it is, and I tell them, "It's a picture of someone's teeth, who've not looked after them."

In other words, appeal to their vanity.

Withholding pain relief is just cruelty.

  • I don't see an answer to the question here. This could have been a comment instead (if you had enough rep at the time to comment). Apr 28, 2011 at 5:51
  • I tried to leave a comment, but couldn't, but wanted to say something.
    – Hairy
    Apr 28, 2011 at 8:05
  • I understand. I'll remove my downvote if you edit your post to add a useful answer :-) Apr 28, 2011 at 8:19
  • I've never considered having the local anesthesia (novocaine) withheld. I have been told the NO2 can cause one to forget an experience. I've had several fillings with no NO2, I don't recall having pain, but I do remember the horrible noise of the drilling. Apr 28, 2011 at 22:57

I have bad teeth because I was on antibiotics very often as a child. My dentist fretted about the loss of enamel back then, and he was right to worry. Speaking as someone who has a lot of dental problems despite great hygiene, I would echo what others have posted and strongly suggest you use other techniques to encourage good hygiene and discourage drug abuse. I consider having severe stomach flu marginally more enjoyable than going to the dentist, and I have a high tolerance for pain. Even with the drugs, it's not pleasant. Better to make her as comfortable as possible so she won't be afraid to go to the dentist in the future than to withhold something that will make life easier for this filling.

  • I was going to leave a comment like this if nobody else did. There's a lot of evidence to indicate that cavities are as much about genetics as hygiene practice. You can certainly have bad practice that means you get ones you didn't have to, but getting them isn't necessarily an indication of personal failure.
    – Don
    Mar 28, 2016 at 17:00

HELL YES, denying your child anaesthetic is very cruel. I could never do that to my daughter.

This will not teach your child that poor dental hygiene causes pain. This will teach your child that Mom and Dad will let her experience unnecessary pain and not do anything about it, and it will teach your child that going to the dentist is painful, to boot!

I would also add that I've come to believe that the fear of the influence of drugs on our children is blown way out of proportion. I have a friend in meatspace who suffered from hard drug abuse for years. He tells me that people do not typically abuse drugs just for enjoyment. He says that there is an underlying something that they are trying to get away from.

I would suggest that so long as you see to it that your daughter's needs are being met and she feels loved and accepted by you, she will not feel compelled to turn to drug abuse to feel better about herself.


I will add that I always used local anesthetics for dental work.. even getting teeth pulled. As long as you have a dentist you trust, there is little to worry about. I was never in much discomfort.

Getting braces done is much more painful...

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