History and Use
Nitrous oxide is also called dinitrogen monoxide, or laughing gas. One
of several oxides of nitrogen, it is a colorless gas with pleasant, sweetish
odor and taste, and it is nonflammable. When inhaled nitrous oxide produces
relaxation, and a reduced sensibility to pain sometimes preceded by laughter,
hence its common name, laughing gas. Nitrous oxide was discovered by the
English chemist Joseph Priestley in 1772. Another English chemist, Humphry
Davy, later named it nitrous oxide and showed its physiological effect.
The principal use of nitrous oxide is as an anesthetic in medical and dental
procedures of short duration. The gas is also used as a propellant in food
aerosols, and as an accelerant in engines.
The usual concerns we hear expressed by people are:
- what degree of control they have while using nitrous oxide, and
- how long the relaxed effect persists beyond its use.
The concentration of the gas can be changed to adjust the degree of effect
from mild anxiety relief to feeling rather drowsy, and you determine the
level that is comfortable for you. You are never out of control. The actual
gas concentration you breathe is a mixture of oxygen and nitrous oxide,
and can be regulated proportionally anywhere from 0% nitrous oxide to 70%
Nitrous oxide acts quickly, within a couple minutes, and its effect is
eliminated just as rapidly. The only residual effect people experience
is relaxation from the lack of anxiety.
For Your Comfort
Nitrous oxide is fitting whenever it is deemed appropriate by you. It can
be used just for an injection or for an entire procedure - you decide this.
Disposable nose masks are available that are comfortable, scented and latex-free.
These fit just over your nose to deliver the nitrous oxide (they are available
in different scents and sizes).
Modern nitrous oxide delivery meters have safety / proportional fail-safe
mechanisms built-in to always deliver at least 30% oxygen. In addition,
scavenging systems are used to collect expired nitrous oxide gas and dispel
it safely out of the office. Nitrous oxide nose masks are single-use and
Nitrous oxide may or may not be a reimbursable expense under your particular
dental insurance plan.