Hoffman's Houston
Funny thing

Shortage of nitrous oxide makes visit to the dentist no laughing matter

Shortage of nitros oxide makes visit to dentist no laughing matter

Houston, Ken Hoffman, dentist laughing gas, June 2017
There's a nationwide shortage of nitrous oxide.  Courtesy of 3Vdental.com

Sad but true story. I was due for my semi-annual teeth cleaning at Dr. Tamborello’s office on Richmond last Friday. You know him, the “Dentist to the Stars.”

Thursday afternoon, I got a call from his office. 

“We want to let you know that we don’t have any nitrous oxide, so you may want to reschedule your visit.”

Yes, I ask for gas when I get my teeth cleaned. Ask? More like beg. My friends mock me, what a baby I am. Okay, I’m a delicate flower. You've heard the saying: No pain … no pain.

“Seriously? Why no nitrous?”

Last August, there was an explosion at the Nitrous Oxide Corporation plant in Cantonment, Florida – the largest producer of nitrous oxide in the U.S.

That set off a nationwide nitrous shortage that still has dentists offering to cancel oral surgeries and other serious procedures … and my teeth cleaning.

Why didn’t I know about this? Grace Medical Gas & Equipment in Katy, one of the biggest nitrous distributors in the country, told physicians and dentists to hoard what nitrous they have – and use it only if absolutely necessary.

I don’t drink, I’m not a drug guy. Alcohol was never in my house when I was growing up, so I never got in the habit. I stay away from pot or stronger drugs because I don’t like the feeling of not being in control of myself. I like knowing where I parked my car. I like not having to apologize for what I said the night before.

But I’m a big fan of nitrous oxide, often called laughing gas, even for teeth cleanings that children laugh-off a silly mask on their face. I tell the staff to get the nitrous ready when I pull into the parking lot, even before I start reading golf magazines from 2010 in the waiting room.

The one thing I like that makes me goofy, and there’s a nationwide shortage of it. Meanwhile, there’s liquor aisles in grocery stores and Harris County says you can smoke pot without fear of arrest now.

I don’t know how nitrous works, but a dentist could put his foot on my chin for leverage and yank out a wisdom tooth with rusty pliers, and I wouldn’t feel a thing.

I also like that nitrous oxide doesn’t last. When dental hygienists are done jabbing at my teeth with Yosemite Sam’s pickaxe, they turn off the gas, and I’m Okay to drive home 15 minutes later. 

One time, just for curiosity, I went on the Internet to see if anybody sold nitrous oxide for home use. There is a question of legality. I don’t want to go to prison for unlawful possession of laughing gas.

“What are you in for?”

“I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die? What about you?”

“I had a toothache.”

I felt like a junkie, one step short of hanging around dark alleys in dangerous neighborhoods at night.

“Pssst, my man, you selling any nitrous?”

So last week, I manned up and got my teeth cleaned without my dentist office crutch. The hygienist poked and flossed, and I took it with the dignity of a 3-year-old visiting the dentist for the first time. 

My next cleaning is six months off. They better get that factory in Florida running full steam by then.