Local Anesthesia

Local anesthesia is a common and essential part of many dental procedures to ensure that patients are comfortable and pain-free during their treatments. While Novocain was a widely recognized brand of local anesthetic in the past, modern dentistry now relies on safer and more effective drugs, such as Lidocaine. These anesthetics are usually combined with other substances, like vasoconstrictors, to improve their effectiveness and prolong their duration.

There are two main types of local anesthetics used by dentists:
  • Topical Anesthetic: This is a gel or liquid applied to a small area on the surface of your mouth or gums. Its purpose is to numb the surface area where the dentist intends to administer the injectable anesthetic. This helps make the injection process more comfortable for the patient.
  • Injectable Anesthetic: This is the main type of local anesthetic used in dentistry to achieve profound numbness of the treatment area. The dentist will inject this anesthetic into the gums or other appropriate site to ensure that the patient does not feel pain or discomfort during the procedure.

Local anesthesia plays a crucial role in dental care, allowing for a wide range of treatments to be performed with minimal discomfort. Dentists carefully consider the type and amount of anesthesia needed for each patient and procedure to provide the best possible experience and outcomes.

What is Local Anesthesia?

Local anesthesia is a vital component of various dental procedures, as it ensures that a specific area of your body, such as your mouth, becomes temporarily numb, preventing you from feeling pain during treatment. Examples of dental procedures that commonly use local anesthesia include fillings, crown placement, and root canals.

Local anesthetics work by blocking the nerve cells in the targeted area, preventing them from sending pain signals to your brain. Typically, the numbness provided by local anesthesia lasts for two to four hours. This means that you may still experience residual numbness after your dental appointment, so it's important to be cautious about eating, drinking, and speaking until the sensation returns to normal.

Before you undergo a procedure that requires local anesthesia, your dental team will ask you for information about allergies and the medications you're taking. This information is important to ensure your safety and to select the appropriate anesthetic formula. If you have specific medical conditions or any concerns about local anesthesia, don't hesitate to reach out to your dentist for more information and guidance. They can address your questions and provide reassurance about the process.

What to Expect

It's not uncommon for some patients to experience a stinging sensation when the dental injection is administered, even after applying a topical anesthetic. This stinging feeling can lead some patients to think that the anesthesia isn't working. However, in reality, this sensation is actually a sign that the anesthetic is taking effect.

The stinging or burning sensation is typically brief and lasts only a few seconds as the anesthetic drug enters the body and begins to block the nerve signals responsible for pain. Once the anesthesia takes full effect, the treated area will become numb, and you should not feel pain during the dental procedure. Dental professionals are experienced in administering local anesthesia and ensuring your comfort during treatments. If you have any concerns or experience unusual sensations during the process, don't hesitate to communicate with your dentist, as they can address your questions and provide reassurance.

Side Effects

Local anesthesia, while generally safe and effective, can have some side effects. One well-known side effect is a temporary rapid heartbeat, also known as tachycardia. This can occur if the local anesthetic is inadvertently injected into a blood vessel, causing one of its components, epinephrine (also known as adrenaline), to enter the bloodstream and affect the heart.

Epinephrine is a natural substance in the body that can quickly increase heart rate. When introduced into the bloodstream via an injection, it may lead to a sudden sensation of a fast-beating heart. While this effect can be alarming, it's usually not dangerous and should return to normal within a matter of seconds as the epinephrine is metabolized.

Dental professionals are trained to minimize the risk of such side effects when administering local anesthesia. If you experience any unusual sensations during a dental procedure, including a rapid heartbeat, your dentist can address your concerns and take appropriate steps to ensure your safety and comfort.


After receiving local anesthesia for a dental procedure, the numbness can persist for a few hours, making it challenging to speak and eat. During this time, it's important to exercise caution while biting and chewing, as you may inadvertently bite your tongue, cheek, or lips without feeling it. Temporary swelling or drooping of certain parts of the mouth or face can also occur. In some cases, you might experience difficulty blinking, but this is generally not a cause for concern. Your dentist can take measures to prevent your eye from drying out by taping it shut if necessary. These effects are temporary and typically subside as the anesthetic wears off.