Nitrous oxide (N2 O), commonly known as laughing gas or happy gas, was first discovered in 1793 by the English scientist Joseph Priestly and has been used for more than 150 years. It has remained one of the most widely used anesthetics in both dental and medical applications.
Nitrous oxide is administered by inhalation, absorbed by diffusion through the lungs, and eliminated via respiration. The elimination half-life of nitrous oxide is approximately 5 minutes. As a general anesthetic, it is very weak and may be used as a carrier gas with oxygen in combination with more potent general inhalational gases for surgical anesthesia. In dentistry, it is commonly used as a single agent (with oxygen) for partial sedation, most commonly in pediatric dentistry.
In dentistry, nitrous oxide is used to decrease the pain and anxiety associated with procedures. A nasal mask in combination with oxygen commonly delivers it. The specially designed nasal mask fully covers the nose, allowing the mixture of nitrous oxide with oxygen to flow while the dentist works on the patient’s mouth.
Nitrous oxide is commonly offered by pediatric dentists to assist in increasing analgesia, relaxation, and cooperation in younger patients. Dentists will also use it on adult dental patients with anxiety, low pain tolerance, underlying psychiatric disorders, and mental retardation.
Nitrous oxide may also be useful for prolonged or more involved dental procedures as well as in patients with hyper responsive gag reflexes. It is often used during removal of wisdom teeth. Generally patients receive 100% oxygen for 5 minutes once the nitrous oxide flow diminishes. This reduces occurrences of nausea and facilitates clearing of the euphoric and other effects of the nitrous oxide gas.
When used properly, nitrous oxide is a very safe inhalational anesthetic gas. It can help you and your children relax and have a pleasant visit with the dentist. If you have anxiety, pain, or other concern call us today and we’ll talk you through all your options for treatment.