How Does Nitrous Oxide Work To Relieve Dental Anxiety?

Also known as laughing gas, nitrous oxide is used to relax patients who have intense fears or phobias about visiting the dentist or having dental treatment. It is an inhaled gas that can really help you to relax and its versatility means that it can be used to make any dental procedure a pleasant one.

What Is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide (N20) is a clear and odourless gas that has been used as an anaesthetic for more than 170 years. When you inhale N20 it decreases your response time, which gives you feelings of calmness and relaxation.

It is also used to treat mild pain and as a sedative. One of the major reasons it is so popular for dental procedures is that it gets to work quickly, and wears off just as quickly.

How Does Nitrous Oxide Work?

When you inhale nitrous oxide the gas enters your bloodstream and moves to your brain. In your brain it triggers the release of your body’s own natural pain management system, including natural opioids, dopamine and endorphins. Essentially the gas dulls your pain receptors and when it is used together with oxygen, it can provide welcome pain relief and relief from anxiety and stress.

In order to administer it, your dentist will fit a mask over your mouth and nose, into which the happy gas will be dispensed. He will ask you to take a few deep breaths.

Nitrous oxide is often administered with oxygen. If your dentist doesn’t do this then you might be given oxygen for around five minutes after your procedure.

This is to help clear any remaining gas, and to help you to wake up afterwards. Getting enough oxygen is also important to ensure you do not get a headache after your treatment.

Is Happy Gas Safe?

Laughing gas is considered safe for use by adults and children and the majority of patients do not experience any side effects or adverse reactions at all.

There are some side effects to be aware of but these are mild and easily managed. Some of these may include:


  • Shivering
  • Sweating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness

There have also been reports of patients experiencing sound distortions and hallucinations after inhaling a lot of nitrous oxide.

It is possible to have an allergic reaction to nitrous oxide, although it is not common.

An allergic reaction may be accompanied by chills and fever, hives, wheezing and difficulty breathing. if any of these symptoms are present you should seek urgent medical attention.

For the general population, any side effects from nitrous oxide can usually self-reverse. You may find you are a bit thirsty afterwards but the majority of patients do not experience any side effects at all.

Can You Overdose With Happy Gas?

While laughing gas is used in safe doses, it is possible for an overdose of the gas to occur. Signs of a potential overdose include:

  • Wheezing, choking and tightness in the chest, which may or may not be accompanied by difficulty breathing
  • Irritation of the eyes, nose and throat
  • Seizures
  • An increased heart rate
  • Blue extremities

It is also possible to elevate the blood pressure with an overdose of nitrous oxide, which increases a person’s chance of developing a heart attack or a stroke.

It is worth knowing that the amount of N2O required for an overdose is significantly more than what is administered by your dentist, and unlikely to occur in a dentist’s chair.

While laughing gas is generally safe it is not appropriate for everyone, and certain groups of people might not be able to use it.

Laughing gas may not be suitable for

  • Ladies in their first trimester of pregnancy
  • Patients who have a vitamin B12 deficiency
  • Patients who have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or other respiratory illness
  • Patients with certain mental health conditions and those with a history of substance abuse

What To Expect Before And After Nitrous Oxide

If you are especially nervous about laughing gas you may want a trial run before your procedure. This will help your dentist to establish what sort of levels you need.

Avoiding heavy meals and lots of liquid in the hours leading up to your procedure can help you to avoid feeling nauseous or vomiting. You should also avoid eating heavy meals for a minimum of three hours after your procedure.

Is Nitrous Oxide Safe For Babies And Children?

Nitrous oxide can be used by different age groups but is generally considered safe for you by younger people. It is often a good idea to give younger children a sedative like laughing gas because it makes the procedure more comfortable, go faster and generally results in a positive dental experience.

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