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 Medically Reviewed by Dr. Charles Dennis, DMD, on March 13, 2024

In recent years, the use of nitrous oxide, commonly known as laughing gas, in dental practices has seen a significant decline. This shift has led many patients to wonder why a once-popular option for managing dental anxiety and pain is no longer the go-to solution. In this blog, we’ll explore the reasons behind this change, taking a look at the advancements in dental care that shape modern practices.

What is Nitrous Oxide?

Nitrous oxide, often referred to as laughing gas, is a colorless, non-flammable gas with a slightly sweet odor, used for its sedative effects. It has been a popular choice in dentistry for its ability to induce a state of relaxation and reduce anxiety during dental procedures. When inhaled, nitrous oxide slows the body’s reaction time, leading to a calm, euphoric sensation that helps patients undergo dental treatments more comfortably.

How Does it Work?

Nitrous oxide works by being inhaled through a mask that fits over the nose. Once in the system, it rapidly dissolves in the bloodstream, leading to a quick onset of its sedative effects.

The gas affects the central nervous system. By depressing the nervous system, nitrous oxide reduces fear, anxiety, and sensitivity to pain, without rendering the patient unconscious. This allows individuals to remain awake and communicative, providing a comfortable experience while still able to respond to the dentist’s instructions.

The Rise of Nitrous Oxide in Dentistry

The use of nitrous oxide in dental practices dates back to the 19th century, making it one of the earliest forms of sedation used to improve the dental care experience. Initially embraced for its simplicity and effectiveness, nitrous oxide quickly became a hit for dental sedation, as it helped alleviate patient anxiety and discomfort during procedures. This rise in popularity was driven by its ability to provide a safer alternative to ether or chloroform, with fewer side effects and a quicker recovery time.

nitrous oxide explained with Abington Center for Cosmetic and Family Dentistry, a dentist in Clarks Summit, PA.

Why Don’t Dentists Use Nitrous Oxide Anymore?

The decline in the use of nitrous oxide in dental practices is due to a combination of factors, including advancements in dental technology, a better understanding of its risks, and the development of alternative sedation methods that offer more control and fewer side effects. While nitrous oxide was once the sedation standard, the dental community has shifted towards options that cater to a wider range of patient needs and safety concerns.

The Risks of Nitrous Oxide

While nitrous oxide is generally considered safe, several risks associated with its use have led to its decreased popularity in dental offices. These include:

  • Delayed Reaction Times: Prolonged exposure can lead to delayed reaction times, affecting a patient’s ability to drive or operate machinery post-procedure.
  • Over-Sedation: In rare cases, patients may experience over-sedation, leading to nausea or decreased blood pressure.
  • Difficulties in Dosing: Accurately dosing nitrous oxide can be challenging, increasing the risk of under or over-sedation.
  • Potential for Abuse: Due to its euphoric effects, there’s a risk of dependency or abuse of nitrous oxide outside the clinical setting.

The Side Effects of Nitrous Oxide

The use of nitrous oxide can also lead to a number of side effects, which vary in severity and can impact patient comfort and recovery. These side effects include:

  • Nausea and Vomiting: A common side effect, especially when used in higher concentrations or for prolonged periods.
  • Dizziness and Headaches: Patients may experience dizziness or headaches during or after nitrous oxide sedation.
  • Fatigue: Some individuals report feeling tired or lethargic following the use of nitrous oxide.
  • Mood Swings: Rarely, patients may experience mood swings or feelings of depression post-sedation.


Dental practices are moving away from using nitrous oxide, reflecting changes in dental care that emphasize patient safety, comfort, and effective treatment. As the field of dentistry advances, there are now more personalized options for sedation, addressing a wider range of patient needs and concerns.

General Dentist in Clarks Summit, PA

If you’re searching for a general dentist in Clarks Summit, PA, Abington Center for Cosmetic and Family Dentistry provides comprehensive dental services tailored to meet your needs. Our dedicated team is committed to delivering exceptional dental care. Contact us today to schedule your next appointment.

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