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All about nitrous oxide

What You Need To Know

It might be called laughing gas, but nitrous oxide is no joke. Dentists have been using it since the 1900s to soothe patients’ nerves and ease their pain.

Nitrous oxide is a type of minimal sedation. This means you feel calmer and are less aware of what’s happening. However, you stay awake, breathe, and swallow on your own. You’re also able to respond to what the dentist is saying, but you might not remember everything later.

Your dentist may offer nitrous oxide as an option during drilling, surgery, or other complex, unpleasant, or painful procedures.

How It’s Given

If you and your dentist decide nitrous oxide is right for your visit, your dentist will give you a mask. You’ll put it on and inhale a mix that’s up to half nitrous oxide and the rest oxygen. Soon, you’ll feel relaxed and sleepy.

After your procedure, you may have to stay at the office until the effects of the nitrous oxide wear off. You should plan to have someone drive you home.

Is It Safe?

Nitrous oxide has no color, almost no smell, and won’t irritate your nose or mouth. It’s considered among the safest drugs used in dentistry. Even children and pregnant women can safely use it. For some people, including those who gag easily, it actually makes dental procedures less risky.

However, there are others who shouldn’t use laughing gas. These include people who:

  • Have phobias or disabilities that prevent them from breathing through a mask

  • Have some psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia

  • Are sensitive to nitrous oxide

  • Suffer from emphysema or another lung condition

Talk with your dentist if you have questions or concerns about any medication you’re given.



“Anesthesia.” American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

“Medical Encyclopedia: Dental Cavities.” U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, December 12, 2008. Accessed 2013.

“Nitrous Oxide and the Inhalation Anesthetics.” D.E. Becker and Morton Rosenberg. Anesthesia Progress. Winter 2008, vol. 55, no. 4, pp. 124-31. Accessed 2013.

“Paediatric Conscious Sedation: Views and Experience of Specialists in Paediatric Dentistry.” S. M. Woolley et al. British Dental Journal. September 26, 2009, vol. 207, no. 6, pp. 1-11. Accessed 2013.

“The Facts on Sedation.” Academy of General Dentistry, January 2012. Accessed 2013.

“The History of Dental Advances.” Academy of General Dentistry, February 2007. Accessed 2013.

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