Ask The Warrior Dentist: What Kind Of Anesthesia Is Used In Dentistry?Ask The Warrior Dentist: What Kind Of Anesthesia Is Used In Dentistry?

Because some of us are especially nervous and fearful in a dentist's chair - or experience a dentist visit as a high-stress situation - there are many procedures used to help calm us down and keep us relaxed so that we don't have unnecessary worry or discomfort. And of course when it is time to do a procedure that involves pain - as many medical and dental procedures often do - the dentist will use the most powerful methods of all and deploy anesthesia or pharmaceutical sedation.

Anesthesia is used by doctors for all sorts of operations and procedures, and there are basically two different categories of anesthesia. General anesthesia means that you are basically "put to sleep" so that you remain unaware of the proceeding during the entire operation, and general anesthesia is typically used only in those situations where total sedation or unconsciousness helps to ensure the success of the surgery and the well being and comfort of the patient.

The other category of anesthesia is "local anesthesia," and this is the kind of dental anesthesia that most of us are familiar with from our visits to the dentist to have drilling done to fill cavities. With local anesthesia the patient remains awake and alert but the specific area being treated is numbed. In other words the location of the procedure is treated with anesthetics, which is why they call it local or localized anesthesia. If you have ever been to the dentist when he or she gave you an injection into your gum before working on your teeth, then you already have personal experience of local anesthesia. The area located around the tooth being treated goes numb, it makes your mouth feel like cotton, and it can be hard to articulate words because your tongue may also be numb or feel strange - as if it were asleep.

The effects of the local anesthesia mask any pain that you might otherwise have to endure, and then the numbness wears off gradually over the next few hours. By the time the anesthesia wears off the main source of pain is gone, so it helps you to get through that kind of potentially uncomfortable and painful phase with greater ease and no sensations of pain - except perhaps for the prick of the needle when the pain medicine is first applied. Dentists can also apply local anesthesia on a cotton swab - without giving you a shot - to numb the area. This kind of topical anesthesia is not as powerful or deeply penetrating, but it can help relieve the pain of a relatively minor procedure - such as getting an injection.

One of the kinds of anesthesia that people like the best is nitrous oxide or so-called laughing gas. This is not a deep anesthetic like those that hospitals use to put people to sleep for operations, but instead it is a kind of medical sedative that gives the patient a sense of deep relaxation and well being, so that they are calm and free of discomfort.

Dentists who use sedation and anesthesia have to first be specially trained and certified, to make sure that whenever they use these pain control tools and therapies that the patient is safe and free from unwanted side effects. Patient safety is their first and foremost consideration, and if you want your dentist to offer you some form of sedation or anesthesia to ensure your comfort, just ask him or her to explain to you all of the available options that can be administered during your dental visit.
by Dr. Susan Wells
References and Bibliography
Dr. Susan Wells DMD has been a warrior dentist practicing dentistry in Warrior, Alabama since 1978.  She treats patients for all aspects of general dentistry including preventive dental care oral hygiene instruction and full scale exams and cleanings. To find out more visit her site at
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