Many patients get nervous about the prospect of undergoing anesthesia during a dental procedure. It’s an understandable concern, but anesthetic is a very common and safely used tool —one most dentists use every day without complications— for helping patients stay comfortable and calm during dental surgery and other treatments.
Below, we’ve included some facts that may help to reduce your anxiety. If you’ve ever wondered about what kinds of anesthetics are used in dentistry or recently done an internet search for “how long will you be numb after a dental procedure,” keep reading.
When is an anesthetic necessary?
An anesthetic is often used when a dentist needs to perform a procedure that can be too painful or uncomfortable for a patient to endure without help. The purpose of anesthesia is to numb sensation in the treatment area for the length of the visit and (sometimes) a little while afterward. Dentists numb their patients for major procedures, like root canals, tooth extraction, and dental implants – but it’s also done for routine things, like filling cavities, as well.
What anesthetics are used for dental treatments?
Lidocaine is the most commonly-used local (injected) anesthetic used by dentists. Many think of Novocain as the classic numbing drug, but Novocain is actually no longer in use and has since been largely replaced by newer, more effective options.
The numbing agent is only one part of what’s injected during anesthesia. The liquid in the injection also can include:
- Vasoconstrictors, which narrow blood vessels and can extend the numbness
- Chemicals to keep the vasoconstrictor from breaking down
- Sodium hydroxide, which helps the numbing agent work
- Sodium chloride, which helps the anesthetic get into your blood
There are also two kinds of numbing injections. A block injection numbs an entire region of your mouth, such as one side of your lower jaw, while an infiltration injection numbs a smaller area directly around the injection site.
The second most common form of anesthetic is nitrous oxide, or “laughing gas.” This is the lightest form of sedation and is administered by breathing through a nasal mask. Nitrous oxide is appealing for a lot of reasons: it’s short-acting, it’s completely eliminated from the body minutes after taking off the mask (no “hangover” effect), it can be regulated by the patient, and it is often the cheaper option. However, nitrous oxide is only minimally effective at reducing awareness, anxiety, and pain— and many patients feel that nitrous oxide just “takes the edge off” rather than being truly numbing.
What are the possible side effects of anesthetics?
Local anesthetics are among the most common drugs used in the dental office. Side effects are very rare, and usually minor, but it’s still good to know what they might be and how to recognize them.
Possible side effects of local anesthesia include:
- Hematoma, a blood-filled swelling in your mouth. This might happen if the injection hits a vein.
- Numbness outside of the targeted area. If this happens, your eyelid or mouth can droop. You will recover when the drug wears off.
- In some people, the vasoconstrictor drug can cause the heart to beat faster. This only lasts for a minute or two, but make sure to tell your dentist if this has ever happened to you.
- Allergic reaction to a local anesthetic. Be sure to tell your dentist about all of the medicines you take. This should include over-the-counter drugs and also any herbs or vitamin supplements. Also, tell your dentist about any reactions you have had with medicines, no matter how minor the reaction was. Some drugs can interact negatively with local anesthetics.
- The needle can injure a nerve. This can lead to numbness and pain for several weeks as the nerve heals itself.
All of these side effects are extremely rare. Most patients undergo and recover from anesthesia without any issues.
How long will you be numb after a dental procedure?
An injection of local anesthesia can last up to several hours, though the wear-off time can be slightly shorter or longer based on different factors. After you leave the dentist’s office, you may find it difficult to speak clearly or eat. Once the effects begin to fade, you should be back to eating, drinking, speaking, and smiling normally.
Your dentist should always provide detailed aftercare instructions following any procedure requiring anesthetics, but it’s always best to reach out if anything feels wrong or you have a question that hasn’t been answered.
At My Family Dentistry, we’ve created an approach we call “comfortable dentistry,” which is designed to reduce the fear and anxiety often associated with dental procedures. If you have any questions or would like to schedule an upcoming dental procedure, contact our office today.
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