Sometimes your dentist needs to numb a part of your mouth. He or she injects medicine into your gum or inner cheek. This medicine is called local anesthesia.
Lidocaine is the most common local anesthetic that dentists use. There are many others. They all have names ending in "-caine." Many people think of Novocain as the classic numbing drug. But Novocain actually is not used anymore. Other drugs last longer and work better than Novocain. These drugs also are less likely to cause allergic reactions.
There are some dental myths I hear quite frequently in my dental office in Orange, CT. The novocaine myth is one of the most common. Invariably, as I am talking about a procedure with my patient in the chair, he/she will say something to the effect of:
“So you are going to give me a shot of novocaine, right?”
I usually do not correct the patient, unless he/she works in the medical or pharmaceutical field. If I were to answer the question, I would say:
“No, I am not going to give you a shot of novocaine. Dentists stopped injecting novocaine over 30 years ago. We use local anesthetics that are more effective and have less potential for allergic reactions now.”
Local anesthetic agents in dentistry
The most commonly used local anesthetic is lidocaine (also called xylocaine or lignocaine), a modern replacement for procaine (also known as novocaine). Its half-life in the body is about 1.5–2 hours. Other local anesthetic agents in current use include articaine (also called septocaine or ubistesin), bupivacaine (a long-acting anesthetic), and mepivacaine. A combination of these may be used depending on the situation. Also, most agents come in two forms: with and without epinephrine (adrenaline) or other vasoconstrictor that allow the agent to last longer and also controls bleeding in the tissue during procedures. Usually the case is classified using the ASA Physical Status Classification System before any anesthesia is given.