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Research Article

Toxicity of bone marrow in dentists exposed to nitrous oxide.

Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985; 291 doi: (Published 31 August 1985) Cite this as: Br Med J (Clin Res Ed) 1985;291:567
  1. B Sweeney,
  2. R M Bingham,
  3. R J Amos,
  4. A C Petty,
  5. P V Cole


    The morphology of the bone marrow of 21 dentists who habitually used nitrous oxide in their surgeries was investigated. Exposure to nitrous oxide was measured with an atmospheric sampling device, and each dentist was invited to fill in a questionnaire giving details of medical history, diet, and intake of alcohol. During the trial a full neurological and haematological investigation was carried out and a bone marrow aspirate was examined both morphologically and by the deoxyuridine suppression test. Mean exposures to nitrous oxide ranged from 159 to 4600 parts per million. In all subjects serum vitamin B12 and folate concentrations were within normal limits. Abnormal results of deoxyuridine suppression tests were obtained in three of the 20 dentists tested; two of these three had abnormal white cells in their peripheral blood films. This study provides direct evidence that occupational exposure to nitrous oxide may cause depression of vitamin B12 activity resulting in measurable changes in bone marrow secondary to impaired synthesis of deoxyribonucleic acid.