Comfortably Numb with Novocaine

A Discussion About a Common Anesthetic

As mentioned in a previous article, most dental patients feel some level of anxiety during their visit. One of the reasons for that anxiety is expected discomfort during a procedure. Whether that pain actually materializes or not, the dentists at the Placerville Dental Group want to keep you comfortable. So to deal with pain, they use anesthetics — substances that induce insensitivity to pain.

Painless Dentistry History

Over a hundred years ago, large amounts of alcohol were often the anesthetic of choice. Starting in 1884, the preferred anesthetic was cocaine. However, both substances had severe drawbacks — including high levels of addiction. In 1905, a synthetic compound derived from benzoic acid called procaine became available, and quickly replaced all other anesthetics in dental offices.

One manufacturer successfully marketed the product with a brand name we’re more familiar with: Novocain. In more recent years, other anesthetics with better performance are readily available. Even so, dental offices generally keep the non-trademarked version novocaine as an option.

Details on Procaine

Novocaine, or procaine, blocks the nerves from sending signals to your brain. Since the signals are never received, the pain isn’t registered, and therefore you don’t “feel” it. Although the effects don’t last long — typically only an hour or so — it’s usually enough time to finish any potentially painful procedure. When used in conjunction with epinephrine (or adrenalin), the duration is stretched out to ninety minutes, in the event of longer treatments. The effectiveness of any dose depends on factors like the actual amount administered, personal body chemistry, and possible side effects.

Side Effects to Novocaine?

Although novocaine is very safe, it sometimes causes side effects:

  • Dizziness
  • Headache
  • Drowsiness
  • Muscle twitching
  • Tingling sensations

Of course, the effects of numbness, slurred speech and excessive drooling are so common that they’re featured in many classic comedy sketches (look for dentist Tim Conway on The Carol Burnett Show as an example).

Exceedingly rare allergic reactions have been reported, including:

  • Itching or hives
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea

If you experience any such symptoms or other discomfort after receiving novocaine, alert your dentist immediately. In fact, make sure you inform the staff of any change in your health or the medications you take regularly before you begin any procedure.

As mentioned, continuing developments make other anesthetics available for use at the Placerville Dental Group. If you’d like more information on novocaine or its alternatives for your next visit (or if you know of some other funny dentist sketches), please let us know by giving us a call or setting up an appointment here on our website. One of our main goals to make your visit as painless as possible.


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