Dental Anesthesia

Like all things dentist-related, dental anesthesia probably seems a little scary at first. We understand that gut reaction. If your dentist gives you a drug for a procedure, it probably means that procedure is really serious, right? You might even think that dentists only use anesthesia for risky or especially complicated procedures.

We’d like to show you why your fears are unfounded. Truthfully, dental anesthesia is safe, effective, helpful, and totally routine. Dentists use it every day, for all kinds of different procedures. Just because you have to have anesthesia for a dental procedure doesn’t mean there’s something seriously wrong with your teeth.


Dentists use a variety of different anesthetics for different purposes. The type they use depends on what they need the specific anesthetic to do. Here are three pain control items we commonly use at dental offices, how they work, and what they’re for:


Topical anesthesiaTopical anesthetic is applied to a specific area of soft tissue to numb it. It’s commonly referred to as numbing gel or jelly and even spray. Dentists usually apply it with a simple cotton swab or cotton roll. In order to work effectively, dentists let the gel sit on the surface it’s numbing for a few minutes.

Generally, dentists use topical anesthetic to numb the cheek or gums before an injection of local anesthetic in order to make the injection more comfortable. It works great on the surface of the mucosa or gums, but it can’t reach the nerves deep under the gums or within the teeth. Whenever dentists need to drill into teeth (like they do when placing fillings), they need to use more than just a topical anesthetic. It’s possible that your dentist won’t use topical anesthetic for every procedure. If your dentist doesn’t use numbing gel, don’t panic. If you are concerned about the anesthetics they’re applying, feel free to ask!

My patients love the gel, and mind you they are mostly adults! 🙂


local anesthesticDentists use local anesthetic by injecting it directly into the area they want to numb. A local anesthetic temporarily deactivates the nerves in a specific part of the mouth. After administering it, dentists can perform a variety of procedures in that area without the patient feeling it. Dentists inject local anesthetics through a thin needle, usually after applying a topical anesthetic to the area. The patient seldom, if ever, feels pain from the prick of the needle used for the injection. At worst, they may feel a brief, slight pressure at the point of insertion.

Lidocaine is the most commonly used local anesthetic among dentists, but there are several other common varieties as well. Along with the anesthetic itself, injections often include a small amount of epinephrine (which your body already makes for itself in larger quantities) to constrict the blood vessels around the injection site and help the anesthetic work effectively and last longer. Dentists use local anesthetic for dental procedures that would be painful without it, like root canals, extractions, or fillings. Contemporary local anesthetics effectively numb any area that invasive dental procedures could affect.



nitrous oxideNitrous oxide, or “laughing gas,” is a colorless, odorless gas commonly used to reduce anxiety in patients during dental procedures. Although it’s technically not an anesthetic, it does have some pain control properties. It’s called “laughing gas” for the euphoric state it imparts when it’s inhaled. Dentists administer it via a breathing mask that fits over the patient’s nose. The patient breathes in a mixture of the gases that’s usually around 30% nitrous oxide and 70% oxygen. The gas begins working within minutes. Dentists easily reverse the effect after treatment by switching to 100% oxygen.

Nitrous oxide doesn’t put patients to sleep, but it does have an effect on the nervous system. It’s used primarily as a means of relaxing anxious patients, but it also has some analgesic properties that help control pain. Nitrous oxide is considered reliable and safe because the effects are mild and easily reversed. It’s ideal for dental procedures because patients under its effects remain conscious and can respond to questions. Dentists can also easily control the amount of nitrous oxide administered to the patient. Dentists use Nitrous oxide in conjunction with, not instead of, local anesthetics.

WHY WE USE IT (anesthesia) ?

Procedures like fillings, crowns, and root canals involve drilling into a tooth to remove decayed tooth material. In the case of root canals, dentists even have to remove inflamed or diseased pulp tissue and nerves. Fortunately, anesthetics allow dentists to perform these procedures safely and effectively in the controlled environment of the dental office while your body doesn’t know that’s what’s happening.

Without anesthetics, many dental procedures would be quite painful, even though they’re being performed perfectly correctly. Anesthetics numb your mouth’s nerves to keep them from transmitting pain signals to your brain. You don’t interpret the procedure as painful. After the dentist finishes the procedure, your mouth won’t either! Many dental procedures may cause minor aches and pains for a couple days after they’re completed, and sometimes injection sites can be sore as well. This discomfort is also natural, and is usually the result of the needle penetrating through gums or mouth muscles during the injection.


Still feel a little scared of dental procedures? That’s ok! You can always ask me about any and all concerns you have. We’re always happy to walk you through our process and put your mind at ease.

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