Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide, also known as “laughing gas,” has been used for almost 150 years as a safe, mildly-sedating, inhaled anesthetic. Your dentist might recommend the use of nitrous oxide to help alleviate discomfort during outpatient procedures.

Nitrous oxide was discovered in 1772 by English chemist Joseph Priestley, but it wasn’t until 1799 that Humphrey Davy, also a chemist in England, experimented with the substance’s inhaled effects. Davy described the sensation thusly:

“On the day when the inflammation was the most troublesome, I breathed three large doses of nitrous oxide. The pain always diminished after the first four or five inspirations; the thrilling came on as usual, and uneasiness was for a few minutes swallowed up in pleasure.”

For the next fifty years, nitrous oxide became a novelty at carnivals and even house parties. Curious guests paid pocket change to breathe a minute’s-worth of laughing gas and experience its pleasurable effects.

While nitrous oxide made the rounds as rollicking-good-fun at festivals, routine surgeries and dental procedures were still often performed without any anesthetic at all. And when sedation was absolutely necessary, surgeons often looked to ether, a risky, medically-dangerous chemical that was also frighteningly explosive. As more and more people became aware of laughing gas toward the end of the 19th century, it became a natural convenience for dentists.

Today, you will find tanks of nitrous oxide in dental offices all around the world. Actually, you will most often notice two tanks — one with oxygen, and another with nitrous oxide. Your dentist will be able to regulate the amount of each gas flowing to the mask. The ratio usually works best at around 70% oxygen to 30% nitrous oxide.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What does nitrous oxide feel like?

Two to three minutes after you start breathing the gas, you will likely experience a mild tingling sensation, a little lightheadedness, and a feeling of warmth and well-being. As your dentist increases the ratio of nitrous oxide to oxygen, you may experience a sense of heaviness and extra relaxation. You might even feel like giggling (it’s called laughing gas, after all). Be sure to communicate with your dentist if you ever feel nauseous or uncomfortable, as this can be a sign that you are receiving a little too much nitrous oxide. Don’t worry; the nitrous oxide machine self-regulates, and it will not allow you to “overdose.” And if you need to, you can simply remove the mask from your nose.

Is nitrous oxide safe?

Yes. Nitrous oxide is completely safe, and it is not something that one can be allergic to. Always make sure to let your dentist know if you have any respiratory or heart conditions that might affect your ability to breathe nitrous oxide for an extended period of time.

Will nitrous oxide put me to sleep?

No. Nitrous oxide is not “sleeping gas.” You will still be conscious and even able to speak — although you might not want to chat too much while your dentist has a mirror in your mouth!

Do I need to have a friend available to take me home after my procedure?

Only if you think you can get them to buy you lunch! You will be “back to normal” and able to drive yourself home as soon as your procedure ends. The effects of nitrous oxide subside within minutes of removing the mask.

Is nitrous oxide safe for children?

Yes! But you might want to let your child know what he or she can expect nitrous oxide to feel like. Laughing gas is fun. After all, it was the talk of all of the best house parties in 1850!

If you’d like to know more about the use of nitrous oxide in your upcoming dental procedure, please feel free to give us a call or send us an email.