Relax! Nitrous oxide is a conscious sedative used to help patients feel more comfortable during dental procedures. Stock photo courtesy of DepositPhotos.

Relax! Nitrous oxide is a conscious sedative used to help patients feel more comfortable during dental procedures. Stock photo courtesy of DepositPhotos.

Nitrous oxide sounds like something a chemist—not a dentist—would use on a daily basis. Surprisingly, it was a dentist who found that this special mix of molecules can be used in medical applications. In 1844, Horace Wells performed a dental extraction on a patient who had been treated with nitrous oxide for the first time.

So, what is nitrous oxide?

Nitrous oxide (or laughing gas, as it is commonly called) is a safe, commonly used sedative that is administered using a mask. The mask is placed over the face and inhaled until the body feels relaxed and sleepy. Nitrous oxide is sometimes referred to as “conscious sedation” because the patient remains awake throughout the procedure.

During many pediatric dental procedures, nitrous oxide is used as a calming option for an anxious child when more traditional methods don’t work. Dentists may also recommend the use of nitrous oxide if a patient has a sensitive gag reflex or to reduce the pain associated with a complex procedure.

Although nitrous oxide is considered safe, there are four types of patients who should avoid this type of sedation:

  1. People with phobias or disabilities that prevent them from breathing through a mask
  2. People who are diagnosed with some psychiatric conditions, including schizophrenia
  3. People who have a known sensitivity to nitrous oxide
  4. People who suffer from emphysema or another lung condition

To watch a video with more information about the use of nitrous oxide in dental offices, visit http://www.mouthhealthy.org/en/az-topics/n/nitrous-oxide.