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If you’ve felt a weird, numb feeling in your mouth at a dental appointment, then you’ve probably had anesthesia. Anesthesia is given during a dental procedure to prevent pain or to calm an anxious patient. In dentistry, the most typical form is local anesthesia, which dulls pain in all or part of the mouth during dental work but does not cause the patient to go to sleep. It usually lasts 2-3 hours and is used typically when a patient is getting a filling or a root canal.

Some children or people with disabilities or severe anxiety may require conscious sedation. Nitrous oxide, sometimes called ‘laughing gas’ is often used, as are oral sedatives and oral injections.

Sometimes, patients will receive general anesthesia, in which drugs cause a temporary loss of consciousness. Deep sedation and general anesthesia may be recommended in certain procedures, such as wisdom teeth removal, or for children or adults who have severe anxiety or difficulty controlling their movements.

Understanding Anesthesia

If you need local anesthesia, the process starts with your dentist drying part of your mouth with air or cotton balls. Then, they will swab the area with a gel to numb the area. Next, your dentist will slowly inject the local anesthetic into the gum tissue. It typically doesn’t hurt at all because the area is already numb. The patient might feel a sting from the anesthetic moving into the tissue.

An injection of local anesthesia can last up to several hours. After you leave the dentist’s office, you may find it difficult to speak clearly and eat or drink. Be careful not to bite down on the area that is numbed because you could cause damage to yourself without realizing it. If you are hungry afterward, a smoothie is probably the best option to ensure you don’t injure yourself.

If a patient requires nitrous oxide, the process is simple. Nitrous oxide is mixed with oxygen and administered through a mask that fits over the nose. The patient is asked to breathe through their nose. It works quickly, leaving patients less agitated during the appointment.

Planning for Anesthesia

There are typically no side effects from local anesthesia, but some possible side effects include:

  • A hematoma (a blood-filled swelling), can form when the injection needle hits a blood vessel.
  • Numbness outside of the localized area. If this happens, your eyelid or mouth can droop. Thankfully, you will recover when the drug wears off.
  • An increased heart rate. This lasts only a minute or two. Tell your doctor if this has ever happened to you.
  • An injured nerve is caused by the needle used to inject the anesthesia. This can lead to numbness and pain for several weeks or months, but the nerve usually heals over time.
  • It is rare to have an allergic reaction to a local anesthetic. Be sure to tell your dentist about all of the medication you take. This should include over-the-counter drugs and any herbs or vitamins you take. You should tell your dentist about any reactions you have had with medicines, no matter how minor the reaction was.

If you are in your first trimester of pregnancy, it is best to avoid major dental treatment. After that time point, discuss your anesthesia options with your dentist and your obstetrician or midwife. In general, most dentists say it’s best to have dental treatment before pregnancy or postpone treatment that’s not essential.

Anesthesia is nothing to worry about! If you have any more questions or concerns, feel free to make an appointment with Dr. Kirol.