“Have you ever used nitrous before?” the hygienist asked as she prepped me for the dental work I was about to receive last week.

“Um…not medically,” I sheepishly admitted.

Travis Naughton

Travis Naughton

I’ve made my fair share of questionable choices over the years, including the misuse of nitrous oxide. Not visiting a dentist’s office for over twenty years ranks right up there among those bad ideas. But after finally rejoining the ranks of the dentally cared-for a couple years ago, I have managed to regain a fairly healthy gum line and a modicum of self-respect.

The principal reason I avoided the dentist’s chair for so long is that I am a wimp. I have a very low tolerance for pain. Routine cleanings, and even flossing, cause me a great deal of discomfort. The first professional cleaning I subjected myself to in two decades was so torturous that I required four injections of Novocain just to get through the procedure.

Almost three years later, I am now able suffer through a cleaning shot-free. Unfortunately, this progress led my new dentist to conclude that I was ready to “have some work done.” Work? Everybody knows I’m allergic to work.

The work my dentist had in mind was filling cavities in four of my molars and placing a crown on another that is cracked. “Doc,” I said with obvious embarrassment, “I think I’m going to need the gas.” He assured me that plenty of adults suffer from dental anxiety and sensitivity and that it is perfectly acceptable to seek relief.

Unfortunately for me, relief proved to be elusive. Apparently, in addition to having a low tolerance for pain, I have an exceptionally high tolerance for laughing gas. When the dentist’s drill bore its way into the first molar, I grunted as a flash of sharp pain pierced my brain.

“Can you feel that?” the dentist asked incredulously. When I mumbled in the affirmative, indicating that indeed I could, the alarmed doctor replied, “Oh, that’s not good.” A third dose of Novocain, one administered with the dentist’s apologies, was injected into the roof of my mouth. “I don’t like to give this one, but I don’t think I have a choice.” Another white-hot flash of pain, and another grunt of displeasure.

“Crank up that gas, Doc,” I pleaded during the brief moment that my mouth was free of fingers and sharp instruments. He assured me that it was already “cranked up.” In fact, the hygienist assisting him felt so woozy from the nitrous lingering in the air that she had to step out of the room, leaving me in the hands of another assistant who promptly opened a window to avoid getting a contact high herself. Later, when the woozy one came back to check on me I said, “Well, at least one of us caught a buzz.”

A week later the two freshly-filled teeth and the cracked, ground-down, and temporarily capped molar are still incredibly sensitive to heat and cold. I cannot chew food on the right side of my mouth without discomfort. And in couple more weeks, I get to go back and have the remaining two cavities filled and a permanent crown fitted. Oh, joy!

I would like to tell you that at least I can count on some sympathy from my thoughtful wife. However, when she got home from work on the night of my ordeal, an hour or so late, Bethany saw the dentist’s invoice laying on our kitchen counter and looked it over while the rest of us ate the dinner that I had prepared in spite of my lingering pain and foul mood. “Why didn’t they run this through our insurance?!” she angrily demanded.

“They did. That’s the balance we still owe after they deducted what our insurance would cover,” I replied. “Oh, by the way, I feel great, honey. Everything went just fine at the dentist today. Thanks for asking!”

Of course Bethany immediately apologized for not being more concerned about my well-being. Well, not immediately. She apologized when she was finally able to catch her breath after she was finished laughing at me.

Soon, I was chuckling, too. I guess laughter really is the best medicine.