Nitrous oxide (N20) or “laughing gas.” is an aid in dental rooms to relieve anxiety during dental procedures. It was first used this way in 1844, when a Connecticut dentist named Dr. Horace Wells tried it on himself while having a tooth extracted.
Nitrous oxide is a colorless gas with a pleasant taste and odor. People first inhale 100% oxygen through a soft nosepiece or mask. Then, nitrous oxide is slowly mixed in with the oxygen. Nitrous oxide usually starts to work in less than five minutes. Your dentist will adjust the mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen to a level to ensure your comfort.
When nitrous oxide used for mild (conscious) sedation, it may make you feel:
You also may feel:
- Tingling in your hands and feet
- Numbness in your mouth, feet or hands
- Heaviness or lightness
- A sense that everything is wonderful
- In very rare cases, anxiety
Happy gas does not put you to sleep. You can still respond to your dentist’s requests and answer questions. Your speech may be slightly slurred, and your responses may be slower than usual. In general, you will be relaxed and cooperative. You will know when you are receiving an injection, and you may even feel it. But you probably won’t care. Your breathing and heartbeat will still be normal.
Nitrous oxide is very safe when used by a properly trained dentist.
If you have side effects, your dentist will turn off the nitrous oxide and allow you to breathe oxygen for up to five minutes. This flushes the nitrous oxide out of your blood.
You should feel normal and alert after breathing the oxygen. However, your motor skills and attention can be affected for as long as 15 minutes after you stop breathing the nitrous oxide. If you leave the dental office sooner than that, ask your dentist if it is okay for you to drive.
Nitrous oxide is not recommended for people with certain lung conditions. These include emphysema, bronchitis and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Any use of nitrous oxide or other drugs during pregnancy should occur only after your dentist talks with your obstetrician.
If you take medicine for psychiatric conditions, talk to your physician before receiving any sedatives. If you are a recovering alcoholic or substance abuser, speak with your psychiatrist or drug counselor before you schedule treatment with nitrous oxide. The euphoric feeling that nitrous oxide gives may be harmful to your recovery.
Your dentist may want to talk to your medical doctor before giving you nitrous oxide if you have certain conditions. These include:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Congestive heart failure
- Sickle cell disease
- Ear infection (acute otitis media)
- Recent head injury
- Recent surgery to repair an eardrum
- Recent eye surgery
Nitrous oxide is safe for children, but not all children will be able to receive it. Children must be able to put up with having the soft nose piece or mask placed over the nose. They also must be able to breathe through the nose, and follow instructions from the dentist.
Tell your dentist about all the medicines you take. This should include over-the-counter vitamins and herbal supplements. Also, let your dentist know if you have had a sensitive or allergic reaction to any medicine