Let’s start with the good news: most routine dental procedures involve minimal if not no discomfort for the patient. These include exams, cleanings, and x-rays. So don’t worry–your next trip to the dentist’s office will likely not hurt a bit. However, there are other dental procedures that may involve some discomfort or pain. These include anything that involves altering or removing the tooth itself: fillings, veneers, crowns, root canals, or tooth extractions. These procedures are less common, but if you do need one the good news is that dental anesthetics can work to mitigate the pain and keep discomfort to a minimum. But what are dental anesthetics? How does dental anesthetic work? Let’s take a look!
The Hows and Whys of Dental Anesthetics
Anesthetics are painkillers drugs. They cause a controlled, temporary loss of feeling or sensation in the part of the body that will be subject to a painful medical procedure. This keeps the patient from feeling the pain at the time, making the procedure in question easier on all concerned.
There are a number of different kinds of dental anesthetics in common use, so you may hear pharmaceutical names like articaine, bupivacaine, lidocaine, mepivacaine, prilocaine. Lidocaine is likely the most common at the time of this writing. Rather than go into the details of how each anesthetic works, let’s look at the ways in which they’re applied instead.
Most dental anesthetics are local anesthetics, which means they numb or block sensation from a specific area of the body. The loss of feeling typically lasts a few hours after application, which is generally more than enough time for the dentist to complete the procedure. Local anesthetics have several advantages. They’re safe, easy to implement and take hold quickly. They also wear off in a reasonable amount of time, allowing the patient to resume normal activities. The patient’s mental faculties are unimpaired, so they can generally drive themselves home after the procedure.
Local dental anesthetics may be applied in several different ways. The most common are either in the form of a numbing gel, via injection, or a combination of the two. An injection is a more effective method than a topical gel, as it allows the dentist to inject the anesthetic close to the major nerves in the jaw. This permits them to take effect more quickly and enhances their ability to numb the pain. The injection is generally not that painful–it’s a quick pinching or stinging sensation for most patients.
General anesthesia, in which the patient is entirely unconscious, isn’t all that common in modern dentistry. It’s generally reserved for either significant oral surgery, lengthy procedures, or when the patient suffers from anxiety or fear of the procedure. Most dentists’ offices aren’t equipped to perform general anesthesia, so if it proves necessary your dentist may refer you to a specialist.
Aftercare following Dental Anesthetics
In general, most of the time no special care is needed in the wake of a dental anesthetic. Your dentist will give you more information about specific information, so please listen to them. However, for most patients, the only care needed is a bit of caution until the anesthetic fully wears off. For a few hours after the procedure, you should avoid eating or chewing anything. Your tongue, cheek, and gums may still be numb, and that makes it easy to accidentally chew on them potentially causing damage. Again, your dentist will tell you what you need to do in the wake of your procedure, but for the most part, your regular brushing and flossing routine is the best course of action.
Dental anesthetics are nothing to be scared of. They’re safe, effective, and in professional hands a wonderful way to avoid the pain that may come with some dental procedures. Your dentist will help you through the process, so just listen to them and trust the science.