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Nitrous oxide or laughing gas was used as an anaesthetic for dentistry from the 1840s. George Barth of Barth and Co – who produced these cylinders – was one of the first people to liquefy the gas in the 1850s. Each of these cylinders contains 25 gallons (114 litres) of liquid nitrous oxide. The average patient required approximately six gallons (27 litres.) Dentists preferred having two cylinders to hand in case one stopped working or ran out during an operation.

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    Glossary: nitrous oxide

    Nitrogen oxide. A colourless, odourless gas that is used as an anaesthetic and analgesic. High concentrations cause a narcotic effect and may replace oxygen, causing death by asphyxia. It is also used as a food aerosol in the preparation of whipping cream.

    Glossary: gas cylinder

    A cylinder in which pressurized gas is stored

    Glossary: anaesthetic

    An agent that causes insensitivity to pain. Applied to either the whole body (general anaesthetic) or a particular area or region (local anaesthetic).