Your mouth contains thousands of nerve endings which makes it sensitive to pain. If you ever have had a toothache, you know how excruciating it can get. This is why dentists like to numb the part of your mouth they’re about to work on. Numbing agents prevent the nerve endings from sending pain signals to the brain. Done properly and you won’t feel a thing while getting a root canal, extraction or other dental work.
Dentistry has come a long way since the wild wild west days. Back in the 1800’s, you’d have to visit a barber if you want a painful tooth extracted. There were no numbing agents, just a couple of swigs of whisky and the barber telling you to “be a man” while he places his foot on your chest for leverage and yanks out the tooth with a pair of pliers.
Nowadays dentists use all sorts of techniques and numbing agents to help their patients feel comfortable. In most cases people feel zero pain. It’s only after the numbing agent wears off does the pain start to kick in, and that can easily be managed with over-the-counter Ibuprofen. We’re going to look at the various numbing options out there, what type of procedure they’re generally used for, potential reactions you may have, and any benefits from a comfort standpoint.
Novocain / Lidocaine
Novocain was invented by a German chemist in 1905. It is injected by a needle into the area in your mouth the dentist wants to numb. It’s considered to be a local anesthetic as it won’t put you to sleep or make you groggy.
Over the years, most dentists have switched to a product called “Lidocaine” which is faster acting and lasts longer than Novocain.
The dentist determines the proper dosage and then sticks the needle into your mouth. A skilled dentist can minimize or almost eliminate the tiny sting of the needle by gentle vibrating the area to be injected.
Lidocaine/Novocain are generally considered to be safe. As with anything medical, there are people out there who might experience an allergic reaction. Chest pain, dizziness, nausea or shaking have all been reporting by people who suffer from an allergic reaction. It’s not known if this form of anesthetic is harmful to unborn babies. If you’re pregnant, be sure to let your dentist know.
Laughing Gas / Nitrous Oxide
Most dental offices are equipped with nitrous oxide. The purpose of it is to lightly sedate the patient without putting them to sleep completely. You will be able to hear and respond to any verbal directions your dentist may give you while under the effects of nitrous.
Nitrous is administered through a small plastic mask that is placed over your nose. It’s mixed with oxygen to render it completely safe. It may take several minutes for the effects of the gas to take hold.
You will most likely feel a deep sense of calm which can alleviate the nervousness that some people suffer from when sitting in the dental chair. You could feel light-headed or have a small tingling sensation in your arms and legs. The effects of nitrous wear off shortly after the mask is removed from your face.
Nitrous is sometimes used in conjunction with Lidocaine and other injectable numbing agents. It helps alleviate the nervousness that people sometimes suffer from when it comes to dentists and needles.
As with any medical procedure, a small portion of the population might experience side effects such as nausea, headache, increased sleepiness or excessive sweating. Be sure to inform your dentist if you start to feel any side effects.
Numbing jelly acts the same was as Lidocaine, with one major difference: No needles. The dentist simply dips a Q-tip into a small tub of numbing jelly and then gently applies it to the area he will be working on. The numbing effect starts in as little as 90 seconds.
Most numbing jellies contain gluten, so if you have a gluten sensitivity, let your dentist know beforehand.
Triazolam is a little blue pill you take on an empty stomach 1 hour prior to your dental appointment. It has the same calming effect as nitrous oxide, with one additional benefit.
Triazolam is from the Valium family and is a prescribed narcotic. Prior to your dental appointment your dentist might write you a prescription for it. Fill the prescription and take the pill and by the time the dentist is working inside your mouth, you’ll feel worry-free.
Triazolam does not stop the pain of dental work by itself. Dentists will still use injectable numbing agents such as Lidocaine. It is merely to help provide comfort and peace of mind to the patient while they’re getting dental work done.
The benefit that Triazolam has over nitrous oxide is that there is a slight amnesia effect. A few hours after your dental procedure, you might find it hard to recall exactly what happened. This is a good thing for people who are scared of dentists or have to undergo major dental work.
As with any narcotic, you might feel some side-effects. You could feel dizzy, tired, nervous, excited or even get a headache. It should be noted that Triazolam will render you legally unable to drive a car. You will need to find a ride to and from the dental office as the drug lasts anywhere from 3-5 hours.
For some people, numbing agents and little blue pills aren’t enough. They want to be put to sleep for the entire dental procedure. Sedation is only normally done in such cases as a severely impacted wisdom tooth or other complication which requires the services of an oral surgeon. Sedation could be administered by inhalation, injection or orally.
If the patient requests sedation, a trained dental anesthesiologist must be hired to put you to sleep. This adds a significant cost to the procedure and could negatively impact the quality of the dentistry. The dental anesthesiologist will only allow you to be asleep for so long, then safety protocols dictate you be woken up. This puts additional strain and pressure on the dentist and could potentially compromise the quality of the work done.
While dental anesthesiology is considered safe, there are always risks when you get put to sleep. It’s advised that you forgo being completely sedated for minor dental procedures. Numbing agents, nitrous and even Triazolam work extremely well for helping you mentally cope with the dental visit.
Compounded Topical Anesthetic
There are products on the market that combine tetracaine, lidocaine, and prilocaine in order to form a kind of super numbing gel. These compounds are usually made by local dental pharmacies. There are several medical benefits to using these gels – the biggest one being no needle is required.
The risks are minimal and if you were to experience side effects it would be the same side effects experienced with Lidocaine or other numbing agents. If you’re pregnant, be sure to advise your dentist prior to receiving the numbing gel.
Vibraject™ / DentalVibe™
These devices are relatively new. Their aim is to make injections less painful. They accomplish this by attaching to a conventional dental syringe. The battery cap is twisted, thereby providing power to the small device. It vibrates the area in the mouth where the syringe will be injected. The vibration prevents the nerves in the injection area from sending pain signals to the brain, thereby making the injection area painless.
Which Method is Right for Me?
The only way you’ll know for sure is to sit down with your dentist and discuss the options along with their pros and cons. Be sure to let your dentist know of any pre-existing health conditions, allergies and any other potential complications (such as pregnancy).
At Water Tower Dental Care, we pay special attention to the comfort of our patients. There are a wide variety of options available to help make your dental visit a pleasant one. Give us a call to schedule an appointment and Dr. Aneszko or Dr. Stino will go over your options and discuss which one is right for you.