Local Anesthetics in Dentistry

Feel Comfortable and Pain-Free During Your Dental Visit

Local anesthetics are essential tools in modern dentistry, providing pain relief during various dental procedures. Dentists use these medications to ensure patients have a comfortable and pain-free experience while receiving dental care. 

At North East Dental Arts, our North East, PA, dentist will ensure that every patient feels comfortable and pain-free during their visit by administering safe and effective local anesthetic solutions. To schedule an appointment, contact us today by calling (814) 725-4700.

starting a non-surgical root canal treatment

What Are Local Anesthetics?

Local anesthetics are drugs designed to block sensation in a specific area of the body. In dentistry, they’re used to create numbness in the oral cavity, including the mouth, gums, and teeth. This numbing effect is crucial for ensuring that dental procedures are virtually painless.

Unlike general anesthesia, which induces a state of unconsciousness, local anesthetics work by interfering with the transmission of pain signals from nerve endings to the brain. They achieve this by blocking sodium channels in nerve fibers, preventing the nerves from sending pain signals to the brain.

With local anesthetics, dentists can perform a wide array of procedures, such as fillings, extractions, root canals, and gum surgeries, with minimal or no pain for the patient, ensuring a comfortable and stress-free experience.

Types of Local Anesthetics in Dentistry

There are several types of local anesthetics used in dentistry. Our dentist will always inform you of what is being used before your dental treatment.

Common local anesthetics include:

  1. Lidocaine: One of the most commonly utilized local anesthetics in dentistry. It’s renowned for its rapid onset of action and effectiveness in providing relief from pain. Lidocaine is an amino amide local anesthetic agent.
  2. Articaine: It’s gaining popularity in dental practice due to its high potency and ability to perform well in inflamed tissues, making it an excellent choice for certain dental procedures.
  3. Mepivacaine: This is preferred when a longer-lasting numbing effect is required. It’s particularly suitable for more extended and complex dental procedures.
  4. Prilocaine: This is often chosen for patients who may be sensitive to other local anesthetics, as it carries a lower risk of causing allergic reactions.
  5. Bupivacaine: Used in situations where prolonged anesthesia is necessary. It offers an extended duration of action, making it suitable for specific dental treatments.

How a Local Anesthetic Is Administered


The most common method of administering a local anesthetic is through injections. These injections are usually targeted at the gum tissue or near the nerves of the affected area. These injections can be in the form of nerve blocks or infiltration anesthesia, depending on the treatment area and the specific nerves that need to be anesthetized.

  • Nerve Blocks: Nerve blocks involve injecting the local anesthetic solution near a specific nerve trunk, such as the inferior alveolar nerve, to numb a larger area. This technique is often used for procedures involving the lower jaw, such as wisdom tooth extractions or mandibular nerve blocks. 
  • Infiltration Anesthesia: In infiltration anesthesia, the local anesthetic is injected into the soft tissues near the treatment area. This method is commonly used for procedures involving the upper jaw or when targeting smaller areas, such as during dental fillings or minor gum surgeries.

Topical Anesthetics

Before administering injections, dentists often apply topical anesthetics to the surface of oral tissues. Topical anesthesia numbs the area, reducing the pain associated with the insertion of the injection needle.

The Wand (Computer-Assisted Anesthesia)

The Wand is a computer-assisted system designed to precisely control the flow rate and pressure of the local anesthetic solution during injections. This advanced technology enhances the accuracy and comfort of the injection process for patients.

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Treatments Where Local Anesthetics May Be Used

Local anesthetics are used in various dental treatments to provide pain relief and ensure patient comfort during the procedures. Common treatments include:

  • Dental Fillings: A local anesthetic is frequently used when dentists need to remove decayed tooth material and fill cavities.
  • Tooth Extractions: When a tooth needs to be removed due to severe damage, infection, or orthodontic reasons, a local anesthetic is administered to numb the area around the tooth, making the extraction painless.
  • Root Canal Therapy: Root canals involve the removal of infected or damaged pulp inside a tooth. Anesthetics are essential to numb the tooth and surrounding tissues to alleviate pain during this procedure.
  • Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) Injections: In cases of TMJ disorders or jaw pain, a local anesthetic may be used for therapeutic injections to alleviate pain and discomfort.
  • Periodontal Treatment: Periodontal treatments such as scaling and root planing, which aim to treat gum disease, may involve the use of local anesthetics to make the procedure more comfortable.
  • Oral Surgery: Local anesthetics are essential for oral surgery procedures, such as tooth extractions, implant placements, or jaw surgeries, to ensure adequate anesthesia and pain management during and after the procedure.

Safety and Risks of Local Anesthetics

When administered correctly by a trained dental professional, local anesthetics are generally safe. However, like any medication, there are potential risks and side effects associated with their use.

  • Allergic Reactions: Some patients may experience allergic reactions to certain local anesthetic agents. These reactions can range from mild (such as rash or itching) to severe (such as anaphylaxis). Dentists will typically inquire about any known allergies before administering local anesthetics.
  • Local Anesthetic Toxicity: In extremely rare cases, if an excessive amount of local anesthetic is inadvertently injected into the bloodstream (intravascular injection), it can lead to systemic toxicity. Symptoms may include dizziness, numbness around the mouth, ringing in the ears, and, in severe cases, cardiac arrhythmias or respiratory arrest. Proper administration techniques and dosage calculations help minimize this risk.
  • Nerve Injury: While uncommon, there is a small risk of temporary or, in extremely rare cases, permanent nerve injury associated with the injection of local anesthetics. This can lead to numbness, tingling, or other sensations in the affected area. Proper injection techniques and knowledge of nerve anatomy help reduce this risk. 
  • Other Potential Side Effects: Some patients may experience minor side effects such as a metallic taste, dizziness, or temporary numbness in areas beyond the intended injection site. These effects are typically mild and resolve within a few hours as the local anesthetic wears off.

Frequently Asked Questions 

Are there any risks associated with local anesthetics?

When administered correctly by a trained dental professional, local anesthetics are generally safe. Most risks arise from factors such as overdose, allergic reactions, or improper administration.

Does local anesthesia make you sleepy?

No, local anesthesia itself does not cause drowsiness or sleepiness. However, some patients may experience slight lightheadedness or dizziness immediately after the injection, which typically subsides quickly.

Are there alternatives to local anesthetics in dentistry?

For certain minor dental procedures, alternatives such as nitrous oxide (laughing gas) or conscious sedation may be considered. However, these options depend on the procedure’s complexity and the patient’s preferences, and they should be discussed with the dentist.

Schedule an Appointment at North East Dental Arts

If you have any concerns or questions about local anesthetics, don’t hesitate to reach out to our dentist. We’re equipped to provide you with personalized information and address any specific concerns you may have. Your oral health and comfort are our top priorities. 

Contact our North East dental office at (814) 725-4700. We welcome patients from Erie, Ripley, and Findley Lake, PA.