Local Anesthesia: Definition, Types and How it Works

local anesthesia

One of the most dreaded parts of many people’s visits to the dentist is the injection. The contraption that holds the needle is huge and inspires fear. Today we are going to take this process apart so that you know what it is exactly that your dentist does and why they need to do it.

What is Local Anesthesia

Local anesthesia is the process during which medicine is applied in order to temporarily numb a small part of your body, in this context, a part of the mouth. It is needed so that you do not feel pain as the procedure is being done because without it, the pain can be excruciating as some of you may have experienced when you got insufficient anesthesia. Once it is delivered, the area feels numb and you may only feel pressure the entire time the dentist works on you.

What procedures require local anesthesia

Indications for local anesthesia include;

  • Invasive procedures involving the tooth for example fillings.
  • Extractions.
  • Abscess draining.
  • Root canals.

Types of local anesthesia

There are basically two types of local anesthesia given in the dental office, topical anesthesia, and injectable anesthesia. These can be used together or separately, depending on the subjective judgment of the dentist.

Topical anesthesia

This is applied to the oral tissues and does not need to be injected, it lasts for a short period of time and only numbs a very small layer. It is thus applied to reduce the pain during injection. Topical anesthesia is normally delivered in form of a colored gel, applied to the area of injection.

Injectable local anesthesia

This is applied to numb deeper and bigger areas. It is delivered via injection. Dentistry has evolved over time and modern dentistry demands that procedures are as pain-free as possible. This also involves the numbing process. This is why special needles are used which are much smaller, and the techniques used to inject are as less traumatizing as possible.

These factors combined make the injection as painful as a mosquito bite. Most of the pain that we feel is in our minds and the big injection that we see contributes to it. The biggest part of the injection is actually the syringe and it does not enter our oral tissues.

How does local anesthesia work

Local anesthesia works by temporarily blocking the transmission of the pain impulses along the nerves to the brain. The duration largely depends on the medication used and can go from around an hour to two hours. This covers the duration of the procedure and even some postoperative time.

After the injection, one feels as if their tongue, lips, or cheeks are heavier than those on the contralateral side. They are also unable to feel them. Caution must thus be taken so that they do not bite and hurt themselves. This is why eating after the numbness has dissipated is recommended.

Precautions to take before taking local anesthesia

There are some people who are allergic to local anesthetic medication. They experience palpitations, or facial swelling, hives and many other effects after being injected. If one has experienced this, it is imperative that they inform the dentist so that alternatives can be applied.

It is advisable to not consume alcohol or any other drugs for at least 24 hours before your dentist appointments as these can compromise the effectiveness of the anesthesia.