Nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas”, is a safe and effective gas used by dentists to help relax or calm children during dental treatment. The gas is a mixture of nitrous oxide and oxygen, which flows through a nose piece worn by your child for the duration of the procedure. Your child will remain awake throughout the procedure and be able to communicate with the dentist, but feel more relaxed. Nitrous oxide is not used in place of local anesthetics (novocaine), but may help your child be more comfortable during the injection or be less aware of the sensation.
The gas has its limitations, as it is only effective if the child is breathing it in and will work to a varying degree on each child. If a child is very upset and crying, nitrous oxide may not be as effective. As the gas is very safe due to safety features of the machine used and very few/minor side effects, in many children capable of tolerating the nose piece, it is a recommended first option for attempting dental treatment in a nervous child.
At the end of the procedure, 100% oxygen is given for a few minutes while your child breathes off all of the nitrous oxide before they leave the office. The most common side effect that occurs in very few patients is nausea or vomiting, both will typically resolve by turning the nitrous oxide down or off. Your child can eat prior to using nitrous oxide, but avoiding having a very large meal shortly before the appointment will greatly reduce the chance your child will experience any vomiting.