While your dentist will always work hard to make dental procedures as comfortable and pleasant as possible, it is nonetheless understandable that some of these procedures, especially those that are restorative in nature, can often be difficult to experience. Where it is necessary to help a patient relax for a dental procedure, dental anesthesia is the common solution. Dental anesthesia can work to sedate the patient, control pain or just make the patient feel more comfortable so that the overall dental experience is a good one.
The Facts About Dental Anesthesia
Whether you receive dental anesthesia and what type of dental anesthesia you receive is based upon the dental procedure, your overall health, your comfort level and preferences and your dentist’s recommendations. Following are the three basic types of dental anesthesia:
- Topical anesthesia. Topical anesthesia is often used in order to numb painful mouth sores, or the area where local anesthesia will be injected.
- Local anesthesia. Local anesthesia is administered through injection, and works by blocking the nerves’ ability to sense or transmit pain signals. It is often recommended and used for dental procedures that are painful by nature, such as drilling out decay, removing enamel to prepare a tooth for a crown, treating gum disease and so on. Lidocaine is currently the most common local anesthetic, though there are many others your dentist may consider. In addition to the numbing agent, local anesthetics normally include a vasoconstrictor to narrow your blood vessels and allow the numbing effects to last longer, sodium hydroxide to help the numbing agent work, and sodium chloride to help the medication get into your blood. Local anesthesia can be administered by block injection to numb an entire region of your mouth or infiltration injection to numb the immediate area around the injection site.
- General anesthesia. General anesthesia allows for total sedation and loss of consciousness. It is normally only used when your dentist determines that this is the best way to make more complex dental procedures–such as the surgical extraction of impacted wisdom teeth–as comfortable as possible. It is usually administered by inhalation or injection.
Local anesthesia is the most common type of dental anesthesia. In order to administer a local anesthetic, the dentist will first dry the appropriate area of the mouth with air or cotton. They may then numb the injection site with topical anesthetic gel before injecting the local anesthetic. The sensation most patients experience is not the insertion of the injection needle but the stinging sensation of the anesthetic moving into the tissue. After a few moments, this sensation fades and the area is comfortably numb.
When an area of the mouth has had a local anesthetic administered, it will usually remain numb for several hours. This does allow the dentist to complete the necessary dental procedure, but it also means that the patient will normally leave the office while their mouth is still at least partially numb. This can make it difficult to speak clearly or eat normally, and it is actually very important that one is careful with their mouth so as not to accidentally bite down on and damage their soft cheek tissue. In very rare cases, the numbness can spread beyond the targeted area, causing the patient’s mouth or eyelid to droop. Even when this occurs it is temporary and resolves as soon as the local anesthetic wears off.
It is not usual for a patient to have an allergic reaction to a local anesthetic, but it can occur very rarely. In order to reduce the possibility of this occurring, your dentist will ask about any reactions you have had to medications in the past, even extremely minor ones, as well as what over-the-counter medicines, herbs or vitamin supplements you take.
Dental anesthesia techniques have long been used in order to make dental procedures more comfortable for patients, which can also make them safer. Your dentist is well-trained and experienced in administering dental anesthetics, and can put you at ease by answering all your questions and addressing your concerns. His ultimate goal is to ensure that you receive the best dental care possible.