Nitrous Oxide (N2O) is a gas most commonly used by dentists to relax their patients, helping them enjoy their dental appointments. While it is not a strong pain-killer, it is a great tool to help induce relaxation. Since it is available to all our patients who request it, we wanted to help the understanding of how it works, and why offer it for cost free.
As a gas, Nitrous oxide has no color, yet it is said to have both a sweet smell and taste. When the gas is inhaled, it produces feelings of euphoria. The exact reasoning behind the euphoric feelings produced by nitrous oxide are not completely understood, as it appears that several different factors are in play to create the effect.
However, it does temporarily decrease one’s ability to feel nearly all sensations, which plays a large part in the production of a delighted mental state (why it’s commonly referred to as laughing gas). N2O numbs a number of common sensations, such as emotional and physical pain, hearing and even the sensation of touch. When these sensations are taken away, most individuals slip into relaxation. Nitrous oxide also has the ability to allow those under its influence to feel completely uninhibited.
Upon first inhaling nitrous oxide, the patient quickly begins to feel the effects of the gas. It generally takes anywhere from 20 seconds to five minutes for nitrous oxide to reach the brain. When the gas reaches the brain, the patient begins to enter a relaxed state. Although the mental state of the patient is altered, they are still completely conscious and able to interact and cooperate with the dentist’s requests.
After inhaling a small amount of nitrous oxide, patients most often experience the following side effects:
- Feelings of euphoria
- Feelings of amusement
- A generally “happy” disposition
- A deep sense of relaxation
- Feeling warm or overheated
- Numbness in the mouth or extremities
- Tingling limbs
- Muffled noises
In the event of uncomfortable side effects, the patient is capable of alerting the dentist of these effects. Upon alerting the dentist, the dentist will then adjust the level of nitrous oxide accordingly or provide the patient with pure oxygen until the side effects lessen or disappear. It generally takes about five minutes of breathing pure oxygen for the nitrous oxide to be eliminated from the bloodstream (which our dentists have tanks of as well). After five minutes of oxygen, the patient should be back to a normal mental state, although motor skills can be affected for up to 15 minutes after nitrous oxide. For this reason, it is best for the patient to remain in the dental office for at least 15 minutes after receiving nitrous oxide if they are driving afterward.
Nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, is a safe way to manage anxiety during dental procedures for both adults and children when the gas is administered by a professional. All patients should discuss any concerns they may have about nitrous oxide with their dentist, and inform their dentist of any medical conditions or daily medications before the dentist administers laughing gas to prevent any complications.
While children are candidates for receiving nitrous oxide as well, they may be unable to keep a mask on their faces to receive the gas. Parents of children receiving nitrous oxide should discuss concerns and any medical conditions before treatment occurs with both the dentist and their child’s pediatrician to avoid potential complications.
Do you have any questions about using nitrous oxide and/or using it at your next appointment? Call Westermeier Martin Dental care to schedule an appointment with your dentist 716-508-4547.