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Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, offers one of the most versatile and helpful forms of sedation available in the dental industry. Whether you have never undergone nitrous before or you’re bringing in your child for his first serious dental procedure, understanding this sedation option can help you feel reassured and confident in your decision.

In this blog, we go over the common uses of nitrous, the restrictions and possible side effects, and what you can expect as a patient.

Effects and Purposes

Nitrous oxide consists of gas which a patient inhales during the duration of a procedure. While under the influence of nitrous oxide, patients may experience any of the following:

  • Feelings of euphoria
  • Mild lightheadedness
  • Reduced focus on auditory stimuli
  • Tickling or phantom vibrations in the limbs
  • Warmth, sleepiness, and relaxation

Contrary to popular belief, nitrous oxide is not a pain reliever. Rather, nitrous is what’s known as a conscious sedative. Essentially, nitrous provides relaxation without putting you to sleep. If you are undergoing an invasive or potentially painful procedure, your dentist will use local anesthetic, such as numbing shots or swabs, in addition to nitrous oxide.

Typically, dentists use nitrous oxide to help reduce anxiety and involuntary muscle movements. Your dentist may recommend nitrous for patients who experience or exhibit any of the following:

  • Extreme tooth sensitivity
  • High levels of anxiety
  • Inability to follow instructions given by staff
  • Inability to sit still
  • Long periods of dental work to complete
  • Particularly low pain tolerance
  • Uncontrollable gag reflex or muscle movement

While most dentists primarily use nitrous to help children, those with extreme dental phobias, and special needs patients, any uncomfortable patient may qualify as a good candidate for this type of sedation.

Restrictions and Side Effects

In almost all cases, nitrous oxide has few or no ill effects. However, some patients may not be eligible for this type of sedation. Your doctor may advise against nitrous if you have any of the following:

  • Advanced congestion which affects breathing
  • Emphysema
  • First trimester pregnancy
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Some respiratory and chest disorders

Your dentist will go over your medical history with you to ensure you are a good candidate before administering any nitrous oxide treatment.

During your procedure, you should let your dentist know if you experience any of the following:

  • Claustrophobia
  • Faintness or fainting
  • Nausea or prolonged lightheadedness

While these side effects are rarely serious, they can indicate oversedation or lowered oxygen levels which should be rectified quickly for best results.

Administration and Use

Dentists and practice staffs who administer nitrous oxide must comply with training and equipment regulations. If you have concerns about the process, talk to the staff at your chosen practice. They can answer any questions you may have about their practices.

To start your supply of nitrous oxide, your dentist will place a nasal hood over your nose. This apparatus attaches to a tube which supplies the gas directly to you. You will still be able to breathe through your mouth and speak with the apparatus on. During the procedure, staff members will monitor your oxygen levels and vital signs for any changes.

Because nitrous oxide is a gas, it works quickly and leaves the body almost immediately once it’s turned off. You should experience the full effects of the gas within two to three minutes of administration.

Once your procedure concludes, the effects should wear off within three to five minutes with no lingering drowsiness or grogginess. However, your dentist may recommend having someone drive you home depending on the nature of your procedure.


If you have other questions about nitrous oxide or other dental sedation methods, talk to your dentist during your next appointment.

Keep this information in mind as you undergo conscious sedation so you can make confident, informed decisions about your dental health.