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How Do Dentists Numb Your Mouth?

Your dentist has a few options, including local and general anesthesia, to ensure you remain comfortable and pain-free throughout your dental treatment. Patients who are anxious about dental work can be given a sedative along with local anesthesia to calm any unease they may experience.

What is Local Anesthesia?

When your dentist talks about numbing your mouth, they are referring to local anesthesia, a class of anesthetics that impacts a limited area of your body. You’ve probably heard of novocaine? That’s a type of local anesthesia that was commonly used by dentists in the past. Today, your dentist is more likely to use lidocaine or articaine, because these anesthetics are more effective and less likely to cause an allergic reaction than novocaine.

Local anesthesia is administered via injection near the affected area of the mouth. Before the injection, a topical anesthetic is usually applied first to lessen any discomfort.

What is General Anesthesia?

In specific instances, a dentist may need to use general anesthesia, where a patient is deeply sedated and loses consciousness. General anesthesia is typically only used for complex procedures. However, it may also be appropriate for less complicated treatments with children, patients who are unable to control their movements or those with extreme anxiety or fear.

What is Conscious Sedation?

Conscious sedation does not numb your body but induces a feeling of calm relaxation. Nitrous oxide is one type of sedative dentists use to help patients with anxiety relax during their dental work. With conscious sedation, you remain awake and aware throughout the procedure, but it is important to note that patients are unable to respond to touch or speech when sedated in this manner.

Depending on the type of sedative, conscious sedation can be administered via inhalation, injection, or by mouth.

How Long Does the Numbness Last?

Local anesthesia can keep you numb for several hours. Tooth numbness typically lasts for an hour or two. Soft tissues such as your lips and tongue can remain numb for three to five hours after administration. Patients with a faster metabolism or those who can physically active after their procedures may find their numbness wears off sooner.