Nitrous Oxide Sedation (Laughing Gas) Pros and Cons

By Aaron Strickland, D.D.S. on September 10, 2018


Despite its nickname, nitrous oxide (commonly called laughing gas) does not incite uncontrollable laughter. However, it is capable of helping patients relax and feel at ease during dental procedures. 

Patients who have had a negative experience at the dentist in the past often avoid returning to the dentist for necessary dental treatments due to anxiety and fear. This only makes these dental issues worse. However, the use of nitrous oxide is changing the way modern dentistry is done today. Many dentists rely on nitrous oxide to help patients with anxiety relax while major dental procedures are being performed. 

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide is an inhaled sedation method that is administered through an oxygen mask during dental procedures. The patient will remain conscious while taking nitrous oxide, but in a more relaxed, “euphoric” state. Occasionally, patients become so relaxed that they fall asleep during the procedure, but they can be easily woken up once the nitrous oxide is no longer being administered.

Nitrous oxide and other dental sedation methods are often mistaken for pain management methods. While nitrous oxide is commonly used in conjunction with a local anesthetic, it does not necessarily ease pain. Rather, it puts the patient in a more relaxed state and alters the patient’s perception of pain, so the procedure can be performed more quickly, easily, and with reduced anxiety for the patient. This is especially helpful during major dental procedures, oral surgeries, or for patients who have high levels of dental fears or anxiety. 

Benefits of Nitrous Oxide

Nitrous oxide is safe, fast, and easy to administer. It is inhaled through a breathing mask, so it requires no IV, oral medication, or other invasive procedures. It is considered tasteless and odorless, so it is typically not unpleasant to receive nitrous oxide.

Nitrous oxide wears off quickly. Because it is a gas, once the nitrous oxide is no longer being administered, a patient returns to a normal state of awareness within a matter of seconds. Unless it is being used in conjunction with other sedation or pain management methods, patients are often able to drive themselves home after the procedure.

Nitrous oxide is safe and effective for patients of all ages, including children. Children who need to undergo a lengthier procedure or who are anxious about their dental treatment may benefit from the use of nitrous oxide as well.

Drawbacks of Nitrous Oxide

Although most patients do not experience any adverse effects from nitrous oxide, in rare cases, some patients do report negative side effects. They can occur if the nitrous level is too high or if the amount being inhaled changes too quickly. These side effects are uncommon, but may include headaches, fatigue, shivering, nausea or vomiting.  

Some patients are uncomfortable breathing through the mask used to administer nitrous oxide. For these patients, another dental sedation may be recommended.

Like any medical treatment, nitrous oxide may not be recommended for everyone. For patients who have a history of COPD, are pregnant, have a methlenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency, or have a history of drug abuse, nitrous oxide sedation may not be recommended.

Bottom Line

The use of nitrous oxide over the years has dramatically changed the way dentistry is done today. Patients who have experienced anxiety in the past are now able to receive treatment quickly, easily, and with minimal discomfort during the procedure with the help of nitrous oxide. Nitrous oxide is widely accepted as the most safe and effective form of sedation at the dentist. If you experience dental anxiety or fears, ask your dentist if laughing gas might be an option for you.

The dentists at White River Dental are trained and certified to administer various forms of dental sedation, including nitrous oxide. Connect with us on Facebook, submit the online contact form below, or give us a call today to schedule your appointment.

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Everyone was very professional, yet very laid back, making an unpleasant procedure much easier to have done. The follow-up​ call from the doctor showed that he cares about his patients. Stephanie C.

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