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An experimental portable local exhaust ventilation system was installed in three dental operatories where nitrous oxide was used routinely. Standard methods of exhaust ventilation design used in industry to control exposures to toxic airborne substances were applied to the dental operatory setting. The concentration of nitrous oxide in the dentists' breathing zones was measured before and after installation to determine the efficiency of the system in reducing occupational exposures. Results indicate that placement of the exhaust opening and exhaust air flow rate are important in determining the degree of control achieved. After the system had been installed in one operatory, peak exposures declined from over 600 parts per million (ppm) to less than 70 ppm: the time-weighted average exposure was below the NIOSH recommended level of 25 ppm. A permanently installed local exhaust ventilation system modeled after the portable one used in this pilot study may be feasible for most operatories and should not interfere with dental procedures. The results suggest that nitrous oxide exposures can be greatly reduced if dental operatories are equipped with local exhaust ventilation.