Nitrous oxide, also known as laughing gas, is used in dentistry to reduce stress and anxiety. It can also mildly help with reducing pain. Nitrous oxide is an excellent option because it works almost instantaneously once inhaled, and the effects wear off quickly once the gas is not administered. Nitrous oxide is very safe and can be used on toddlers, children and adults alike. However, with any drug, there is a small chance of short or long-term effects.
Short-term effects are usually due to inhaling the nitrous oxide too quickly or inhaling too much of it. However, it is pretty uncommon to experience adverse effects from nitrous oxide. Possible effects are dizziness, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, headache, sweating or shivering.
To avoid any gastrointestinal side effects of nitrous oxide, avoid eating for several hours before receiving it. Oxygen is administered in place of the nitrous oxide at the end of the procedure to eliminate its effects. Oxygen will also help the patient return to awareness and alertness.
There is also a possible allergic reaction to nitrous oxide, and symptoms include chills, hives, wheezing or fever. If any of these symptoms present during the use of nitrous oxide, medical attention will be required.
It is not thought that the use of nitrous oxide for dental procedures can cause any long-term effects. However, over-exposure or regular use for recreational purposes may have some long-term effects. Long-term effects of nitrous oxide use are vitamin B12 deficiency and anemia. A dentist may decide not to give a patient nitrous oxide if there is a past history of mental illness, vitamin B12 deficiency, history of substance abuse or respiratory illness, or if the patient is in the first trimester of pregnancy.
The risk of side effects, both short and long-term, are highly uncommon when a health care provider administers nitrous oxide in a controlled setting. Talk with your dentist to see if nitrous oxide is an option for you.