Dental anesthesia FAQS - what to expect, how long does it last, what does it feel like, etc.

Do you need dental work that requires dental anesthesia (getting your mouth numb at the dentist)?

We understand you may have some anxiety about this part of the procedure. So to help you overcome that, our Salt Lake City dentists are going to answer frequently asked questions about getting your mouth numb at the dentist. That way, you can put your nerves to rest (literally) by knowing what to expect and how anesthetic is actually your friend in all of this.

Getting your mouth numb at the dentist

What does it mean to get numb?

Numbness is defined as a lack of sensation. This is achieved in dentistry by placing an anesthetic medication near a cluster of nerves, which affects the synapses and blocks many sensations, including pain. This allows dentists and hygienists to complete necessary treatments with minimal to no pain.

What type of anesthesia is used for dental work?

You may have heard people refer to local anesthetic as Novocaine. Back in the day, Novocaine was the local anesthetic of choice, but that is not the case today. Why? Many patients were allergic to the byproduct that is made when Novocaine is metabolized.

Today, most dentists in the U.S. use a local anesthetic called lidocaine or articaine. These numbing agents are more effective, and very few people are allergic to them.

If you have difficulty getting numb, ask your dentist to use articaine. Opens new tab to paperThe Journal of the American Dental Association published a paper that showed “articaine produced anesthesia more profound than other routinely used anesthetics” (most commonly lidocaine), and it had a 54% greater success with numbing patients who had difficulty getting numb.

Why is a needle used?

A needle is used to accurately place the local anesthetic under the tissue near the intended cluster of nerves or by the tooth for the maximum benefit.

Often, our Salt Lake City dentists find patients’ dental fears stem from a fear of needles, formally known as belonephobia. If this is the case for you, then you’re going to like this news…

New technology is coming out that reduces pain with an injection and helps ease your dental fear. At Legacy Dental, we use a wand to administer local anesthetic. This wand delivers the medication at a slow, steady rate, which results in less pain.

One day, there might even be a solution that eliminates needles. Until then, you can count on us to offer you the best dental care available today.

The important thing to remember is although injections may cause you initial discomfort, the alternative of not getting your mouth numb at the dentist is far worse. Additionally, avoiding dental treatments can cause you more pain down the road than getting the work done in the first place.

The best way to avoid dental pain? Visit your dentist regularly for an exam and cleaning!

What can I expect when getting my mouth numb at the dentist?

At our Salt Lake City dentist’s office, we begin by first going over your medical history to make sure there won’t be any adverse reactions to a local anesthetic.

Next, a topical anesthetic (typically a gel on a cotton swab) will be placed on the injection site for a minute or two. This will get the injection site numb, making the initial injection poke less painful.

Depending on the treatment needed or health of your tooth, we may use multiple injections to ensure all nerve stimulus is blocked surrounding that area. While those few extra pokes may seem annoying, it is all done with your best interest (comfort) in mind.

Why does my heart speed up when I get an injection? Am I allergic to anesthetic?

Most local anesthetics are mixed with adrenaline or epinephrine. These substances make the anesthetic last longer and help keep you out of pain. However, it can also make your heart race.

This is usually prevented by not injecting the anesthetic into a blood vessel. But even with a careful dentist, it can still sometimes happen. If this happens to you, rest assured your racing heart will subdue after a minute or so.

If you have heart problems, your dentist may use a local anesthetic that does not contain epinephrine. An anesthetic that does not carry epinephrine may require multiple injections because it does not last very long.

What does it feel like to be numb?

The feeling of having your mouth numb is often described as asleep, full, or tingling. Depending on the treatment area, you may also feel numbness in your tongue, chin, cheeks, the roof of your mouth, nose, and just below your eye.

How long does local anesthetic last?

The length of time a local anesthetic takes to wear off will vary based on which type was used. Generally speaking, your treated tooth will be numb for 1-2 hours, and your lips and tongue will be numb for 3-5 hours from the time of injection.

The numb feeling goes away as the blood flow carries it away from the injection site to be broken down or metabolized. With your dentist’s permission, you can reduce the numbing effects more quickly by taking a walk or being active.

You may also ask your dentist to use OraVerse after your treatment. OraVerse is an injection that reverses the effects of the anesthetic, making the numbing sensation go away twice as fast. You should note that this injection typically costs $25-75, and dental insurance does not pay for it.

Have more questions? Contact us!

Our Salt Lake City dentists hope this blog helps answer your questions about getting your mouth numb at the dentist. And more importantly, we hope it enables you to overcome your dental anxiety by knowing what to expect.

If we missed a question, contact us, and we will do our best to answer it:

Still nervous about going to the dentist? Let us help!

Our team at Legacy Dental is passionate about providing individuals and families with positive dental experiences. One way we achieve this is by making your experience pain-free with injection techniques and technology, sedation dentistry, emergency dental care, and much more!

Our patients come from all over Salt Lake City to receive kind and highly-skilled dentistry, including Millcreek, East Millcreek, Holladay, Sugar House, Murray, Midvale, South Salt Lake, Sandy, Taylorsville, West Jordan, South Jordan, Riverton, and Herriman.


Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2011 and has been completely revamped for comprehensiveness and timeliness.