Frequently Asked Questions regarding Nitrous Oxide Sedation

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide is a non-irritating, non-flammable, sweet smelling, colorless gas that is not well absorbed by the blood (this means only a small amount is needed in the blood to give a sedative effect). People first inhale 100% oxygen through a soft nosepiece or mask. Then, nitrous oxide is slowly mixed in with the oxygen. Nitrous oxide usually starts to work in less than five minutes. The dentist will adjust the mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen to a level specific to you to ensure your comfort.

Can I be allergic to Nitrous Oxide?

No. There has never been a documented case of allergic reaction to nitrous oxide.

Can I drive home after my dental treatment with nitrous oxide?

Yes. Nitrous oxide is breathed into the body and will have an effect, but it is NOT absorbed. When you exhale the nitrous oxide, there is none left in your body. We will have you breathe 100% oxygen for at least 5 minutes after your treatment and our staff will ensure you feel comfortable before leaving our office.

What might I feel when I am sedated with nitrous oxide?

  • Some numbness or tingling of the hands and feet
  • Sensation of “floating”
  • Arms and legs may feel heavy—decreased muscle tension
  • A very short increase in heart rate but it will return back to normal very quickly
  • Relaxed and warm
  • Happy or silly
  • Changes in the way you hear sounds (everything sounds far away or muffled or you may hear a sound described as “white noise”)
  • Sleepiness

What are some less common side effects of nitrous oxide?

  • Nausea, vomiting, indigestions, dizziness
  • Anxiety, agitation, hallucinations and/or slurred speech

If you have negative side effects, your dentist will turn off the nitrous oxide and allow you to breathe oxygen for up to five minutes. This flushes the nitrous oxide out of your blood.

Does nitrous oxide affect my lungs or heart?

No. Nitrous oxide relaxes patients and allows patients to remain calm throughout the treatment. The effect on the cardiovascular system is insignificant.

What are the advantages of using nitrous oxide sedation?

  • It has a rapid onset—within minutes the patient is relaxed and anxiety/nervousness has been decreased allowing for a more pleasant and comfortable experience.
  • It provides a mild analgesic (pain killer)—the “pinch” from the injection if not felt as much with nitrous oxide.
  • Patients are able to drive home after treatment and require no post-operative care.
  • Nitrous oxide is not a drug taken before the appointment—it is administrated during the appointment and the effect ONLY last during the appointment.
  • Nitrous oxide can reduce the sensitivity of the gag reflex.

Who can NOT use nitrous oxide sedation?

  • Patients unable to breathe through their nose. You absolutely have to BREATHE THROUGH YOUR NOSE when using nitrous oxide; if you breathe through your mouth, the nitrous will not have any effect.
  • Patients unable to understand the instructions.
  • Patients who are uncomfortable with the nose piece.
  • Patients that do not like the sensation from nitrous or experience numerous side effects.
  • Medical history of: obstructed bowel, pneumothorax, obstructed middle ear, detached retina surgery (within 3 months), sickle cell anemia.
  • Patients with breathing conditions like severe COPD, emphysema, and bronchitis.
  • Patients that received “Bleomycin” chemotherapy in the past year.
  • Patients who are pregnant.

Is nitrous oxide safe?

Nitrous oxide is a very commonly used gas for sedation purposes and it is very safe. It is breathed in, gives a sedative effect, and then is exhaled, so nothing is left inside the body. The delivery system is designed to never allow only nitrous oxide to be given; there is ALWAYS oxygen given at the same time and there is a safety gauge to ensure you ALWAYS have the required amount of oxygen. It is very safe. 

Does nitrous oxide put me totally to sleep?

No. Nitrous oxide does not put you to sleep. You can still respond to the dental team’s requests and answer questions. Your speech may be slightly slurred, and your responses may be slower than usual. In general, you will be relaxed and cooperative. You will know when you are received an injection, and you may even feel it, but you probably will not care. Your breathing and heartbeat will still be normal.

Am I okay to eat before my appointment?

Because we do not know who will have side effects from the nitrous oxide, it is advised to eat a light meal before the appointment. Avoid anything too heavy in case you do have a reaction.