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Laughing Gas at the Dental Office – What You Should Know

Do you have a strong gag reflex? Are you someone who feels debilitating anxiety about your upcoming dental appointment(s)? Does your child need to be still for a long dental appointment? Any of these situations could benefit from the use of laughing gas, or nitrous oxide, to ensure that you have a successful dental visit. But what is laughing gas, what is it used for, and are there any associated risks?

Nitrous Oxide

To help you better understand, we’ll answer the following commonly asked questions about laughing gas (nitrous oxide) including:

  1. Is nitrous oxide safe at the dentist?
  2. Can you still feel pain with laughing gas?
  3. Who should not get nitrous oxide?
  4. What are the side effects of nitrous oxide?
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Laughing Gas – What Does It Do?

Nitrous oxide, laughing gas, is a very mild sedative that safely and effectively helps manage anxiety and pain during various forms of dental treatment. Nitrous oxide is odorless and colorless; it is mixed with oxygen and is then inhaled through a small mask that fits over the nasal passage (nose). Patients breathe normally and generally feel the effects of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, within a matter of minutes.

Contrary to the name, “laughing gas” doesn’t necessarily make you laugh but rather slows down the nervous system, thus making you feel very relaxed. On occasion, some people feel tingly, light-headed, and at times might even experience heaviness in the legs and arms. The end result of Nitrous Oxide leaves you feeling calm and comfortable and ultimately, allows you to get the dental treatment you need and deserve.

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Laughing Gas – What are the Benefits?

Simply put, dentists often choose nitrous oxide sedation because it is very safe and very effective. Laughing gas does work quickly and is able to relax patients. The after-effects do wear off quickly just by breathing pure oxygen. Another added benefit is that nitrous oxide does not put you to sleep. Thus, you can still hear and respond to any of the dentist’s questions or instructions.

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Laughing Gas – What are the Side Effects?

Most patients have no adverse reactions to nitrous oxide (laughing gas). However, adverse reactions can occur if the amount being inhaled suddenly changes or if nitrous oxide levels rise too high. If side effects do occur they could include:

  • Headaches
  • Sleepiness
  • Shivering
  • Excessive sweating
  • Nausea and/or vomiting

After the laughing gas has been turned off, patients must continue to receive oxygen for a minimum of five minutes to help avoid headaches. Oxygen assists in purging any remaining nitrous oxide within the lungs while aiding the patient in becoming more alert. To help prevent any nausea or vomiting, patients can eat lightly before the procedure; and avoid large meals for up to three hours post-procedure. Be sure to ask your dentist whether or not it will be safe for you to drive after your procedure.

Laughing Gas – What is it Used For?

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The AAPD, or American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry, recommends the use of nitrous oxide for these clinical indications:

  • Patients who are anxious, fearful, or uncooperative
  • Patients who have special health care needs
  • Patients with strong gag reflexes that interfere with dental care
  • Patients that don’t respond well or adequately to local anesthesia
  • Younger patients who must undergo long dental procedures

Laughing Gas – Nitrous Oxide for Children

children's dentist Dr Kelly


You might be wondering if nitrous oxide is truly safe for children? The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry states that nitrous oxide, laughing gas, is, in most cases, acceptable for children and can be easily titrated, or adjusted. Oftentimes, children show a fair amount of enthusiasm for using laughing gas and report feeling a warming or tingling sensation. The use of laughing gas can help expedite procedures that require a child not to move for an extended period. Some children, however, may have difficulty wearing the mask or experience nausea. Be sure to discuss options for sedation dentistry with your dentist for children in Lincoln, NE when planning any dental treatment.

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Laughing Gas – Who isn’t a Candidate?

While nitrous oxide is considered a very effective and very safe sedative, it still might not be the “right” choice. The American Academy of Pediatric Dentistry does list several risk factors regarding the use of laughing gas. Please talk to your dentist and inform them of any of the following conditions:

  • You are currently in your first trimester of pregnancy
  • A history of respiratory illnesses such as (COPD) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • A deficiency in vitamin B-12 
  • A history of any substance abuse
  • Enzyme condition known as methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency
  • A history of any mental health conditions

Nitrous oxide can be an extremely useful tool for easing pain and anxiety during various dental procedures. If you think you or your child could benefit from using laughing gas for your next appointment or procedure, be sure to talk to your dentist about your options.

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Commonly Asked Questions About Nitrous Oxide and its use at the Dental Office…

Can you still feel pain with laughing gas?

In short, nitrous oxide affects the nervous system, which, in turn, will lessen pain sensitivity. Nitrous oxide can help patients remain calm by reducing anxiety. There is also a chance that depending upon the procedure you are having performed; the dentist may still use a local anesthetic to help reduce any additional discomfort.

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Is nitrous oxide safe at the dentist?

When used appropriately, the combination of oxygen and nitrous oxide used at the dentist is safe. The use of nitrous oxide is a highly effective and safe way to help reduce dental anxiety and pain, allowing patients to get the dental care they need and deserve.

How long does nitrous oxide last at the dentist?

After the mask has been removed, nitrous oxide effects will last approximately 3 to 5 minutes. Another benefit of nitrous oxide is that you should not experience any “hangover” type effects, which means patients should be able to drive themselves home after their procedure safely. It is essential to discuss all post-procedural plans with your Lincoln, NE dentist to ensure safety. 

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Who should not get nitrous oxide?

Individuals who should not receive nitrous oxide at the dentist include:

  • Patients who have current respiratory infections.
  • Patients who have a compromised immune system.
  • Patients who have multiple sclerosis.
  • Those who have a blocked middle ear.
  • Repeat exposure to nitrous oxide less than one week apart.

The above conditions are in addition to the following contraindications (previously listed in this article):

  • You are currently in your first trimester of pregnancy.
  • You have a history of respiratory illnesses such as (COPD) chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
  • You have a deficiency of vitamin B-12.
  • You have a history of substance abuse (marajuana or hallucinogenic drugs).
  • Enzyme condition is known as methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase deficiency.
  • Present with a history of any mental health conditions.

If you are unsure whether or not you have had any of the above procedures, be sure to check with any treating physicians or specialists to ensure the safe use of nitrous oxide.

How much is nitrous oxide at the dentist?

On average, laughing gas at the dentist’s office costs approximately $80 to $150 for the first hour with additional fees should you require nitrous oxide that is longer than one hour. Do know that prices do vary based upon the individual dental practice.

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Can you drive after laughing gas?

A huge benefit of nitrous oxide is that, in most cases, you can drive yourself to and from the procedure. The effects of nitrous oxide can quickly be reversed with oxygen, which means that as soon as the dentist takes the nitrous oxide away and administers oxygen, you should not have any lasting effects. Nitrous oxide is an extremely safe and effective way to ensure you get the dental care you need and deserve. 

If you have concerns about the use of nitrous oxide or have had any existing surgeries/procedures that could be a contraindication for using laughing gas, be sure to talk with your dentist in Lincoln, NE.

Does dental insurance pay for laughing gas?

Some dental insurance plans do cover the cost of nitrous oxide should it be required for the procedure. 

For the most accurate information regarding dental insurance coverage with the use of nitrous oxide, call your dental insurance provider. Your dental insurance provider will have plan-specific details and should be able to inform you as to whether or not nitrous oxide is a covered service.

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What are the side effects of nitrous oxide?

As previously stated, nitrous oxide has been proven safe and effective when used appropriately. There are, however, some minor side effects that can occur. Side effects can include nausea, vomiting, excessive sweating, fatigue, dizziness, and shivering.

Is nitrous oxide safe for elderly patients?

Nitrous oxide is safe for all ages as long as there are no contraindications and it is used appropriately by a trained medical professional. The use of nitrous oxide within the senior population can often be helpful for procedures such as tooth extractions.

Oral sedation may also be a great option for the elderly in helping reduce dental anxiety. Oral sedation comes in pill form and is offered at all seven Nebraska Family Dentistry locations. The biggest difference in oral sedation versus nitrous oxide is that with oral sedation, a driver (friend, family member, or neighbor) will need to accompany the patient to and from their appointment. 

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Conclusion:

Everyone must receive dental care no matter their age. Besides ensuring you have clean teeth, routine dental visits offer much more. Unfortunately, however, many avoid the dentist because of negative past experiences, fear of the dentist, fear of needles, dental anxiety, or a combination of many things. Avoiding the dentist can, in turn, present the need for lengthy or invasive dental procedures down the road.

No matter what, experiencing any of these things can have a negative impact on our dental health and, ultimately, our overall health. But, the good news is that things like oral sedation and nitrous oxide have changed dentistry. Using a form of mild sedation can allow you to get the dental care you need and deserve without having to experience all the discomfort or anxiety that can accompany dental visits. 

Your oral health and comfort are our priority. Our dentists in Lincoln, NE, have helped many patients overcome their dental fears, and they can help you, too! Talk with one of our Lincoln, NE dentists today to  see if you might benefit from the use of laughing gas at your next appointment. Let us show you the Nebraska Family Dentistry way of doing dentistry!

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