What is Nitrous Oxide? 

Do you get nervous when you visit the dentist? You’re not alone! Many of Discover Dental’s patients express anxiety about having dental work done, even when it’s not painful. Dentistry isn’t always pleasant, but it’s an important part of maintaining our oral (and overall) health. For this reason, many dentists employ the use of nitrous oxide gas in order to help make patients feel more comfortable.

Nitrous oxide is a safe and effective sedative agent that is mixed with oxygen and inhaled through a small mask that fits over your nose to help you relax. Sometimes called “laughing gas,” it’s an option your dentist may offer to help make you more relaxed and comfortable during certain procedures. Nitrous oxide is not intended to put you to sleep. Patients are able to hear and respond to any requests or directions the dentist may have. Some patients are wary of the gas, but it has been used safely in dentistry for a long time.

Nitrous oxide was discovered in Britain in 1772, but its use was limited to recreation at upper-class parties. People found that inhaling a little of the gas would make you laugh (hence the name) and that inhaling a little more would knock you unconscious. As the years passed, showmen began traveling America demonstrating the gas’ effects. In 1844, a dentist in Harford, Conn., named Horace Wells thought of using this gas as a sedative after witnessing a man dosed with nitrous oxide suffer an accidental cut to his leg without feeling any pain.

To test its effectiveness, Wells inhaled a large dose of nitrous oxide and had a colleague extract one of his molars. Wells felt no pain during the procedure, and soon began successfully administering the drug to patients. A public demonstration went awry, however, when he began a tooth extraction before the gas’ effects had taken hold, causing his patient to cry out in pain! As a consequence, it took years for nitrous oxide to become a common and trusted dental tool.


By 1864, the American Dental Association formally recognized Dr. Wells for his great discovery. Because nitrous oxide gas is mild enough to keep a patient in a conscious and conversational state, yet typically strong enough to suppress the pain occasionally caused by dental work, it remains the preferred gas anesthetic in dentistry today.


If you are scheduled for a procedure in which nitrous oxide might be useful, your dentist will likely recommend its use and then apply a rubber mask over your nose. After a few short minutes of breathing normally through your nose, you should start to feel the effects. Some patients may feel light-headed or experience a tingling in their arms and legs. Some people say their arms and legs feel heavy. Ultimately, you should feel calm and comfortable. The effects of nitrous oxide will wear off soon after the mask is removed.


Call Discover Dental today to learn whether nitrous oxide would be a good option for you!