Nitrous oxide sedation has become one of the most commonly used technique in dentistry today to help patients feel more comfortable and eliminate dental anxiety. It is estimated that approximately 35% of dentists use nitrous oxide sedation for their patients. Nitrous Oxide is an odorless, colorless simple gas that one can breathe in. It works as a pain killer and gives a pleasurable feeling. Some people feel light headed and often get the giggle, hence the name “laughing gas.” While others say they may feel heavy in the arms and legs. Either signs are normal. Nitrous is not intended to put one to sleep. Directions given by the dentist will be heard and one may respond to any requests. This is called “conscious sedation.”
The use of nitrous oxide, “laughing gas”, is safe to use for a longer period of time if mixed with oxygen. Now it’s called N2O-O2, which contains 30% oxygen. Usually, the mix is about 70% oxygen to 30% nitrous oxide. About four levels of sedation can be experienced after an initial feeling of light-headedness, depending on the concentration and length of administration of the nitrous oxide. It is normal if any of these signs and symptoms occur:
- A tingling or vibration feeling in the arms and legs followed by,
- Warm sensations
- Floating feeling or some may feel heavier
If sleepiness or difficulty to speak occurs, it means over sedation as occured. Letting the dentist know once it gets to that point is important because they could either adjust the percentage of nitrous oxide or remove the mask. The effects of nitrous oxide wear off soon after the treatment has ended and the mask is removed.
Some advantages of nitrous oxide are that it works rapidly. N2O reaches the brain within 20 seconds, and relaxation occurs after 2 or 3 minutes. The gas is eliminated from the body within 3 to 5 minutes after the gas supply is stopped. No injection is required and inhalation sedation is safe. It has been found to be very effective in eliminating or at least minimizing server gagging.
Laughing gas is highly recommended for apprehensive patients who have medical conditions, who have dental anxiety, or who are extreme gaggers.