What is Laughing Gas?

What is Laughing Gas?

You’ve probably seen a movie or television show where someone who’s terrified of going to the dentist ends up laughing their head off during the procedure. Laughing gas has it’s name for a reason. While it’s meant to help people with anxiety and phobias about dental procedures, it’s most known for the giggles it causes.

Even though it’s pretty common, few people understand what laughing gas does, what it is, or how it works. Whether you have a long procedure scheduled or you just get really nervous at your regularly scheduled cleaning, laughing gas may be a good option for you.

Understanding Laughing Gas

Understanding Laughing GasLaughing gas goes by many names but it is a sedation option called inhalation sedation. All this means is that you breathe in the sedative instead of taking a pill or having an injection. Nitrous oxide (N2O) is the technical name for laughing gas. It was discovered in 1772 and for many years afterward was a source of entertainment while people happily watched demonstrators of the gas become silly and laugh while under its effects.

Nitrous oxide has no color or smell. Unlike dangerous gases with no color or smell, laughing gas has no harmful side effects for the vast majority of people. It makes you feel good. Many people describe the sensations as “floating” or “euphoric.” Patients using nitrous oxide don’t feel afraid of the procedure or the needles. They’re too light headed and giggly to worry.

How Laughing Gas Works

How Laughing Gas WorksLaughing gas is administered through a machine that mixes the gas so that it’s 70 percent oxygen and 30 percent nitrous oxide. Any more nitrous oxide than that, and you can become nauseous or even pass out. You wear a mask over your nose that’s connected to a tube so you can breathe in the gas. A scent is often added to let you know you’re breathing in the laughing gas. All you have to do is breathe normally, and it will begin to work.

For most people, there are four stages to laughing gas:

  1. First you feel a tingling sensation, usually in your arms and legs.
  2. Second you begin to feel warm all over.
  3. Next you simply feel good or like you’re floating
  4. The fourth stage is the one to avoid – sleepiness.

If you get to the fourth stage or begin to feel nauseated, you’ve likely had too much. The good news is that nitrous oxide can easily be adjusted or you can remove your mask to clear your head.

Why Choose Laughing Gas

Why Choose Laughing GasLaughing gas is a very common option for people who have long dental procedures or anyone with anxiety about going to the dentist. There are plenty of reasons why it’s such a popular sedation method:

  • It works fast. You’ll feel the effects in two to three minutes after you breathe it in.
  • The doses can be adjusted quickly.
  • Laughing gas works as long as you’re using it. Other medications only work for a specific amount of time.
  • You can turn it off when you don’t need it and quickly turn it back on later.
  • When you’re done, the effects wear off within a few minutes.
  • Depending on the procedure, nitrous oxide can sometimes be used in place of painkillers or numbing agents injected into your gums.
  • It doesn’t require a needle to use – great for people who really hate needles.
  • It’s extremely safe with very few side effects.

Laughing Gas isn’t for Everyone

Laughing Gas isn’t for EveryoneIt would be wrong to say that laughing gas is for absolutely everyone. While most people can use it with no problems, there are some patients who should choose another option.

  • Pregnant women in the first trimester
  • Anyone with a stuffy nose that makes breathing through your nose difficult
  • Anyone diagnosed with multiple sclerosis or emphysema
  • People who feel claustrophobic with something covering their nose
  • People who don’t like feeling out of control in a situation

In some rare cases, the 70/30 mix of nitrous oxide will not be effective. Unfortunately we’re unable to calibrate the nitrous oxide higher than that.


Laughing gas is one of the few early medical discoveries that have stood the test of time. While we know much more about it than we did back in the late 1700s, it still works the same as it always has. If there’s no obvious reason why you can’t try nitrous oxide, and you get nervous during the most basic appointments, it may be time to ask for a dose of laughing gas during your next procedure.