I’ve been riffling through my old writing, and I came across this post I wrote about five years ago on a long-defunct blog. What follows is my account of having cavities filled while under the influence of nitrous oxide. To fill in the necessary context, I was going through a divorce at the time.


Today I had a bunch of cavities filled that I’ve been putting off for years. Fortunately, my dentist is perfectly willing to strap a mask on my face and pump nitrous oxide into my system, which has the happy result of making me unable to marshal the tiniest fuck that he’s repeatedly plunging a needle into my gums.

 I was actually looking forward to this dental appointment, on the grounds that it would be the first time since this whole clusterfuck happened that I would be chemically fortified against the pain, and I was wondering what it would feel like. I don’t much trust substances — never have — and I’m telling the honest truth when I say I’ve not anesthetized myself a single time in the last year with alcohol, xanax, sleeping pills, or anything else. Come to think of it, maybe that’s where I’ve gone wrong. 

I’ve had nitrous at the dentist once before. In keeping with the fact that I don’t generally consume intoxicating substances, I was an embarrassing lightweight. At one point I told my dentist, Dr. Ty, that I was starting to panic, and I thought the dose was too high. “We have you on the dose we typically administer to five-year olds, Jennifer,” Ty said kindly, before suggesting that I could make it through the rest of the procedure without further pharmaceutical assistance. This time, I was curious to see what the effect would be, given my current emotional state. Turns out, it’s pretty much the same as the effect on your mouth: you know there’s pain there somewhere, you just don’t give a shit.

 Actual conversation with my dentist and subsequent thought process:

 Dr. Ty: “Okay, breathe through your nose.” [Turns to get something that I’m convinced is the needle.] 

Me: “Ty, I’m still sober.”

 Dr. Ty: “You’ve had the mask on for 8 seconds. Give it a chance.” 

Me: “Oh. Okay. Just don’t get the needle until — hey look! There’s a ladybug on the ceiling.” 

Dental assistant, chuckling: “How are you feeling?” 

Me: “Huh?”

 The first symptom of nitrous stonerdom is the feeling of something seeping through the veins in your limbs, down to your extremities. Hee. There’s music playing, that soft rock they always play in dentist’s offices. Little River Band’s Reminiscing is on: Friday night it was late I was walkin’ you home we got down to the gate and I was dreamin’ of the night…. 

Dr. Ty to dental assistant: “Can you hand me that, please, Courtney? “

I bet Ty’s a great boss, I think to myself for no reason whatsoever. Really easy to work for. 

Dr. Ty: “Okay, Jen, open your mouth please. No, I mean actually open it.”

 Oh yeah, I think to myself. Dentistry does require that you open your mouth. I try to open my mouth.

 Me: “I can’t.”

Dr. Ty: “Why not?”

 Me (quite honestly): “Because I can’t find it.” 

Dr. Ty, kindly tapping my mouth: “It’s right here.”

 Me: “Excellent. Thanks.”

 I open my mouth.

How to tell you girl….I wanna build my world around you. Tell you that it’s true….I wanna make you understand, I’m talkin’ about a lifetime plan….

Lifetime plan, my ass! I think. Don’t believe him!

 Dr. Ty, by now wielding the needle: “Okay, Jen, little pinch here.”

Me: “Yeah, sure. Why not.”

I feel about five tiny, nearly imperceptible pokes in various places in my gums. Ty turns away for about thirty seconds, then turns back.

Ty: “Uh, Jen, you can close your mouth now.”

Whoops. I didn’t know it was still open.

Ty: “Here. Bite down on this. Now you don’t have to worry about where your mouth is.”

La de dah de dah deeeee dah, I think to myself. This is fuckin’ weird. Aggressively weird. Heeee hee, ha hee. Wee dee wah wee deee.

Courtney: “Are you feeling all right still?”

Me: “Oh yeah. I’d like to keep this mask on for the next six months or so if you don’t mind.”

 No you wouldn’t, I reminded myself. You’d just come off the nitrous and this bullshit would be there waiting for you. Fucking bullshit. Wow…the ladybug made some serious progress. She’s all the way over on the other side of the room now. How long have I been sitting here anyway? How did she make it all the way over those ceiling tiles with such short legs? How long are her legs, like a fucking millimeter? Isn’t that the equivalent of me walking to New Hampshire on my lunch hour? What the hell? Ladybugs scare me.

Dr. Ty: “Okay, I’m finished drilling. We’re going to take a little break.”

Me: “I have to go to the bathroom. NOW.”

Courtney whips off the mask at my urgent tones, probably concerned that her nitrous-infused patient is going to pee herself in the chair. I lurch upward.

Dr. Ty: “Okay, Jen, hang on. I didn’t have a chance to bleed off the nitrous. Do you want me to help you?”

 Me: “Nah, I’m fine!” I walk cheerfully into the edge of the open door.

By some miracle, I make it into the bathroom. And I swear to GOD, I peed forever. It felt like my pee was coming out in a microscopic trickle. For all I know I peed for ten seconds and it was over, but from my tripped-out perspective I spent most of Barack Obama’s first term in my dentist’s bathroom emptying my bladder. Shit, the ladybug’s great grandchildren were probably roaming the ceiling by the time I got back into the chair. My ex-husband was cheating on his fifth wife before I even reached for the TP.

I stand up and look in the mirror. All the work’s being done on one side so I have this alarmingly asymmetrical downturn to the left side of my face, and there’s a big red imprint around my nose where the mask was. I look like something out of a Batman movie.I’m unreasonably pleased by this.I go to open the door, but I hesitate, because I’m not completely sure I’ve successfully pulled my pants up. I rationalize that I’m among friends, and they probably wouldn’t hold it against me anyway, so I exit the can cautiously.

Nitrous is an ephemeral high, and I’m almost completely sober by the time I get back in the chair.I decide that since the worst is over, I’m going to forego the mask for the rest of the procedure.The Hundred Year Pee has unnerved me, and having regained the ability to care about literally anything, I’m reluctant to relinquish it again. And the ladybug is gone anyway, so what’s the point.

 It took a full two hours for my comic book villain face to wear off, and my teeth are sore tonight. But at least I know where my mouth is.


2 thoughts on “This is your brain. This is your brain on laughing gas.

  1. Thanks for the hoot!! It’s good to know I’m not the only person who takes two good snorts through the nose then spends the rest of the time mouth-breathing because I don’t want to be shit-faced in front of my dentist. Like that’s never happened in his office before.

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