How does nitrous oxide work in dentistry?

How does nitrous oxide work in dentistry?

One thing most people have in common is a dislike of visiting the dentist, even for simple things like routine cleanings and checkups. If you’ve got something a little more complex on the horizon, like having cavities treated, there’s a good chance you’re already feeling a little anxious. Fortunately, at Smile Workshop, we offer plenty of options to help patients stay calm, comfortable and relaxed during their treatments. One of our most popular options is nitrous oxide.

What is nitrous oxide?

You might know nitrous oxide by its nickname, laughing gas. It’s kind of an odd name, because using nitrous oxide doesn’t really make you laugh out loud or even snicker quietly to yourself. Instead, the nickname is based on the gas’ reputation for eliciting a sense of euphoria or exhilaration in patients who use it. Nitrous oxide is the cornerstone of sedation dentistry (also sometimes called sleep dentistry), partly because of its safety profile and partly because of its long history in dentistry. The gas was “discovered” way back in the 1700s, and its first use in dentistry dates back to 1844, when it was used on a dental student. 

Back then, little was known about the dosage or the application of the gas. But in today’s modern dental practices, nitrous oxide dosing is very accurate and very precise. In fact, nitrous oxide is very well tolerated by most patients. The gas is not associated with any known allergic reactions, its dosing is easily adjusted based on the individual patient’s needs, it works fast, and its effects are quickly reversible once the procedure is over. 


How nitrous oxide works

During dental treatments, nitrous oxide helps in three key ways: 

  • It relaxes you so you feel calm.
  • It reduces pain, so you feel more comfortable.
  • It produces those feelings of euphoria, so your anxiety stays at bay.

Unlike other types of sedation like pills or intravenous methods, nitrous oxide is breathed in through a small mask that fits securely over your nose. Once the mask is in place, you’ll simply breathe like you normally would, but only through your nose, not your mouth. Soon after the gas is administered, you’ll feel mildly lightheaded, and you might experience a tingling in your arms or legs. Some patients describe the sensation as a feeling of heaviness in their limbs. 

Even though nitrous oxide can make you very relaxed, you won’t “pass out;” in fact, you’ll still be alert and able to respond to requests like “open wider” or “rinse and spit.” Since nitrous oxide wears off quickly, you’ll need to wear the mask and continue to breathe through your nose throughout your treatment to continue to enjoy the calming and pain-blocking effects. At Smile Workshop, we use nitrous oxide to help nervous or anxious patients relax, so they can get the care they need to keep their teeth and gums healthy. If that sounds like you, consult your Smile Workshop dentist during your next regular checkup. Give us a call at 888-833-8404 or book an appointment online to find out if nitrous oxide might help.


Side effects of nitrous oxide

Because nitrous oxide is so well-tolerated and wears off quickly, most patients don’t experience anything aside from a little sleepiness after receiving the gas. But because nitrous oxide replaces some of the oxygen traveling to your brain, it can also cause mild headaches afterward in a few people who receive the gas. In a very few cases, nitrous oxide might cause excessive sweating or shivering, and a handful of patients might experience nausea or vomiting for a short period afterward. Most side effects are associated with higher doses of the gas, or they may occur if oxygen delivery is delayed once administration of the gas stops.

At Smile Workshop, we help mitigate the risk of side effects by tailoring the dose of gas to the individual patient and by administering oxygen as soon as the treatment is over. Rapid administration of oxygen helps “flush” the remaining nitrous oxide from the lungs and tissues to help you “wake up” fully and avoid headaches and other side effects. Even though the effects of the gas are rapidly reversible, you might be sleepy after your treatment, and it’s a good idea to have someone ready to drive you home. And, even though the risk of nausea is small, it’s also wise to avoid large or heavy meals before your treatment and for a few hours afterward.


Don’t let anxiety keep you from getting the care you need

With 14 locations across San Antonio, Amarillo and Dallas-Fort Worth, Smile Workshop has a family dentist near you who’s skilled in using nitrous oxide to keep you calm and comfortable. To learn more about nitrous oxide and other types of sedation dentistry, give us a call at 888-833-8404 or book an appointment online today.