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Is Local Anaesthesia right for my Dental Procedure?

It is common for people needing less complex dental treatment such as missing teeth replacement, dental implants or root canal work to undergo the procedure under local anaesthesia. This numbs the area being worked on to remove pain or discomfort without putting the patient under sedation or controlled unconsciousness.

Local anaesthesia is simple to administer and, nowadays, practically painless to receive. It helps the patient remain calm and allows the dentist to carry out dental procedures safely and without interruption. Local anaesthesia can be administered by a dentist or dental hygienist, or a dental surgeon as part of a larger dental procedure or exploration. If you have not had local anaesthesia before, or you would like to find out more about it, here are four key questions to ask.

What is Local Anaesthesia?

Local anaesthesia is a highly effective form of pain management. The medicine is injected into the inner cheek or gum and allowed to take effect before any work begins. Not only does it remove pain and discomfort, it also helps patients experiencing dental anxiety to feel calmer about the procedure ahead.

Commonly, dentists use local anaesthesia containing Lidocaine to numb the area. This ingredient is replacing Novocain in many practices. Lidocaine has been found to work better and for the numbing effects to last longer. It is also less likely to cause allergic reactions. Patients with medical conditions that could be affected by receiving local anaesthesia by injection, such as a bleeding disorder or allergy, should inform their dentist in advance.

Does Local Anaesthesia Hurt?

Administering local anaesthesia comfortably and efficiently is a very important part of dental care. The patient is highly unlikely to even feel the needle going into the cheek or gum. There may be brief discomfort as the medicine moves through the soft tissues inside the mouth and starts to take effect. A numbing gel can be applied prior to receiving the injection to help reduce any discomfort. This especially helps those who have dental anxiety to cope with the proximity of a sharp needle.

It could also be a good idea to agree a ‘stop’ signal with your dentist at the outset so that you can call a halt to the treatment if you feel any pain or feel overwhelmed by dental anxiety. Many people feel a tingling sensation as the effects wear off once the dental procedure is over.

How does the dentist administer a local anaesthetic injection?

The dentist will dry the affected area inside the mouth with cotton wool and air first. They will check the area to be numbed and calculate how much they need to insert. Then, the dentist will work out where to place the injection in order to cover the whole area needing to be numbed and achieve full pain management. Once the medicine has all been injected, the patient rests and waits for the effects to kick in.

This stage of the dental care will not take very long. The mouth will feel numb and strange – it is very important to take care while this is happening. Keep your tongue and teeth very still inside your mouth. If you inadvertently bite the area, you won’t feel the effects and you could cause serious damage to the tongue or inside cheek without even realising.

Are there any side-effects to this form of dental treatment?

The vast majority of dentists are very experienced in administering local anaesthesia and know exactly where and how to inject the medicine. Side-effects are therefore rare. However, some people could have an allergic reaction to the numbing medicine used. Consult your doctor if you are worried about this happening before your dental treatment. Other side-effects could also include an increased heart rate due to the vasoconstrictor ingredient in the medicine, numbness outside the area being targeted or nerve injury, should the needle strike a nerve.

All of these are rare, and you should speak to a doctor if you are worried about any of them happening to you. It is generally recommended for pregnant patients not to have elective dental treatment during the first or third trimesters. In the overwhelmingly majority of dental procedures, having local anaesthesia will be far less painful and uncomfortable than attempting the dental treatment without it.