Nitrous oxide is known by many different names. My patients may recognize the terms laughing or happy gas, inhalation sedation, relative analgesia, N2O, or just plain nitrous. Whatever the name, this gas is an important key to delivering pain-free dentistry to people of all ages. I want my patients to understand this common pain control measure. With the right precautions and preparations, anyone can feel more comfortable approaching a major dental procedure.
Humphrey Davy discovered nitrous oxide in 1772. It seems that Davy was experiencing a toothache due to a gum infection. He tried some laughing gas, which was different from the composition that is commonly used today, on himself and recorded the results. He described inhaling three doses of the gas and then feeling a few moments of pleasure without uneasiness or discomfort. Davy’s description of his experience remains very accurate. After inhalation, a person will experience an overwhelming feeling of euphoria or pleasure. These feelings generally begin about five minutes after inhalation, and they tend to spread over the body. It’s also common for patients to laugh and giggle, and they might feel a little dizzy or light headed.
It’s the mixing process of N2O with oxygen (O2) that makes laughing gas safe to use and an invaluable tool for providing pain-free dentistry to patients. Used on its own, N2O could actually be lethal because of oxygen deprivation. Mixing the two compounds to create a minimum level of 30 percent oxygen creates a safe blend of gases. Concentration and the length of administration will determine how a patient responds. At its weakest level, mild tingling is experienced. The next level involves warm sensations. From there, a person will go on to feel euphoric and lighter than air. Some people report changes in their hearing with throbbing sounds being common. There is always some risk associated with anesthesia, but laughing gas is generally considered a safe sedation method that ensures pain-free dentistry.
The process of administering N2O is fairly simple. My team always reviews a patient’s medical history and monitors their vital signs during every procedure. With this attention to care, it is possible to relax in the dentist’s chair.