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How does Nitrous Oxide work?

June 9th, 2022

Nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas or happy gas, is a colourless and non-flammable gas used in dental procedures as a sedative. This chemical compound, an oxide of nitrogen with the formula N2O, is effective as a mild to moderate sedative. It helps patients relax and relieves nerves and anxiety with the pleasurable feelings it emits and also helps reduce pain while remaining awake throughout the procedure. It also has a quick recovery time making it a sedation of choice for many procedures.

Nitrous oxide is a type of anesthetic that is considered a safe method when used correctly and under the supervision of a professional and is also safe for children. It is asked that the patient does not eat or drink anything for two hours prior to the procedure.

Before the dentist starts the procedure the nitrous oxide is administered through a nasal hood, a sort of mask that covers only the nose while your teeth are worked on. The patient will start out breathing 100% oxygen and then slowly allowed to breathe increasing amounts of nitrous oxide until the desired effect is achieved. A combination of both oxygen and nitrous oxide are given during the procedure, and the amount of the two gases will be dependent on the desired strength of the sedation. Therapeutic levels will vary from patient to patient. When the gas is on you just simply breath normally – inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth to receive the gas. It has a slightly sweet scent and taste.

Nitrous oxide works very quickly as it only takes about 20 seconds to reach the brain after the first breath. The gas keeps patients calm throughout the procedure and will make you drowsy but without losing consciousness so you will still be able to respond to questions from the dentist.

When the procedure is finished it only takes a short period of time to regain alertness afterwards. Once the nitrous oxide has been turned off, 100% oxygen is given for at least five minutes to avoid a headache and to remove any remaining gas from the lungs. As the gas is flushed out you will return to your normal state. 


Posted in Children's Dentistry, Dental Care, Dental Services