What is nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide, more commonly known as laughing gas, is a type of sedation dentistry where you will be given a gas mixture (nitrous oxide and oxygen) to inhale through a mask to help you relax. It is an effective sedative which is useful if you are very anxious about treatment to make the dental experience more pleasant.

Can anyone have laughing gas?

Nitrous oxide is ideal for children and we get some really positive results when kids are apprehensive about treatment. They get to be like a jet fighter pilot who breathes special air when he is flying so fast.

It can help take the edge of treatment that patients are concerned about, however it doesn’t remove pain so anaesthetic will still be required. It is to reduce anxiety.

The mask covers the nose so it is important the person can breath through their nose for it to be effective. If this is a problem then this form of sedation will be ineffective. People who have respiratory conditions, such as asthma, people who recently have had ear or eye surgery, or people with multiple sclerosis aren’t suitable for nitrous oxide sedation. Pregnant women who are in their first trimester shouldn’t have nitrous oxide.

What are the effects of nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide gives a good (‘euphoric’) feeling, but it won’t make you fall asleep or drowsy, just relaxed. You will be conscious for the entire procedure but in a less anxious state. You may feel a bit light-headed or have some heaviness or tingling in your arms and legs.

You can usually start to feel the effects of laughing gas after just a few seconds, but its numbing properties can be felt after two to three minutes after inhalation. Once the administration of the gas is stopped, oxygen is run through and the effects will rapidly disappear after about a minute, leaving you feeling like yourself again.

What level of sedation does the nitrous oxide provide?

It’s a light form of sedation, much lighter than IV sedation and of course general anaesthetic.
The dentist will gauge the level of sedation required and adjust it accordingly; how much anxiety you have by how much dosage you need. We calibrate on your response and increase or decrease the strength of the laughing gas as required. If you feel a little sick then, we simply lighten the percentage because you are getting a bit too much for you. Another advantage of nitrous oxide is that the effects can be seen very quickly and stopped very quickly meaning it only needs to last for the duration of the dental procedure, though some people might like it to be a little longer. You don’t even need to have someone drive you home, as it is already safe for you to do it yourself once all the effects has dissipated.

Does my dentist need special training to be able to safely administer nitrous oxide?

Certain sedation requires additional training but because of ease of use and low risk, nitrous oxide isn’t one of them. Your dentist will know the percentages of oxygen and nitrous that are safe to use, how to set up the equipment to extract the gas after you breath it out. What gauges to monitor and generally care for you. The equipment has a maximum value that cannot be exceeded- an inbuilt safety mechanism if you will.

What should I do before my dental appointment?

If you’re prone to vomiting or nausea, it is recommended to eat at least four hours before your dental appointment–and don’t eat too much. It is important that you don’t go to your dental appointment with an empty stomach, either, we like you to have a certain level of blood sugar so you don’t feel faint.

We need a detailed history of all the medication you may be taking and what it is for. Nitrous is a very safe and effective sedation treatment though it can be a little restrictive for the dentist in terms of access particularly if they are working on the front teeth where the mask presses under the nose.

Previous experiences and a discussion of your anxiety should be carried out. We are pretty gentle and kind and explain everything so there are no surprises. Because we spend time with our explanations, many patients who may have had gas previously, no longer require it when they come to see us.