The Role of Lidocaine in Dentistry
Lidocaine is the name of a frequently used local anesthetic. It is also known as xylocaine or lignocaine.
Its effect lasts for about 90 minutes to 2 hours. About half of market share of local anesthetics in the US is occupied by lidocaine-containing products. It is available in various forms that are unrelated to dental work. Various gels, patches and creams of varying concentrations are available for a variety of everyday needs.
Your dentist will often use lidocaine when a part of your mouth needs to be numbed in order to prepare for a dental procedure. The substance is usually injected into your gums or cheek. There are many substances similar to lidocaine, but their effects are all very similar.
If you suffer from needle phobia, do not worry, as most often the dentists will firstly wipe and dry the area that the procedure will be conducted on, and then apply some lidocaine gel. This is done so that you do not feel anything from the needle when your dentist starts injecting the anesthetic. The effect is almost instant and does not take more than three minutes; this is one of lidocaine’s major selling points. The dose injected depends on the procedure. Extensive procedures involving, say, wisdom teeth, will require more local anesthetic to be injected (more cartridges which contain the anesthetic are injected).
The injection will numb a small area on one side of your mouth – exactly what is necessary for a successful dental procedure, in which you will not feel any pain and the dentist will be able to work the best they can.
The effects of lidocaine or other local anesthetics can sometimes be felt for a few hours and manifest themselves as, of course, numbness in the affected area. This may interfere with speaking and eating. You might even find it hard to swallow and might even drool a little due to lack of feeling in the area. But this is only temporary and goes away over time.
Local anesthetics are generally very safe and well-tolerated. Side effects are few and far between. They also behave as slight vasodilators, meaning that they dilate your blood vessels. They are usually mixed with vasoconstrictors to slow their rate of absorption into the bloodstream and counteract any possible side effects. Possible side effects of local anesthesia injections include hematoma, where the area becomes swollen and filled with blood, which may occur if the injection hits the blood vessel. Tingling, pain and numbness may occur and last for a few months if the injection hits a nerve, but the nerve usually repairs itself and the effect is only temporary. Let your dentist know if you experience elevated heart rate after the injection, this may be due to epinephrine that is given in conjunction with lidocaine in the injection (as it is a vasoconstrictor).
Lidocaine is metabolized by the liver. If you have liver problems, it may take longer for lidocaine to clear from your system. Always tell your dentist if you’re currently taking any drugs, even if they may seem unrelated to the procedure. Adverse effects may occur with certain combinations of medications and it is best to be prepared, just in case.
Some people are insensitive to lidocaine. This is a genetic feature and you are advised to inform your dentist if this is the case. You might find that out during the procedure, if this is your first time you are getting lidocaine – do not hesitate to halt the procedure if necessary!
All in all, lidocaine and other local anesthetics are great additions to the modern arsenal of dentistry. It helps us be more comfortable and ensures that the procedures go as smoothly as possible. Gone are the days of biting down the stick (almost literally) and bearing the pain that went along with complicated dental procedures. It is much simpler today – thankfully!
The anesthetics are so effective, simple and so widely used that going to the dentist is a breeze. Even though they do not affect dental health per se, in our experience the availability of such products made a lot of people feel at ease with dental procedures. This has had a markedly positive effect on overall dental health. Some patients were shocked when they found out we have lidocaine and that procedures are pain-free, as they have not been to the dentist’s for a long time. They started caring for their teeth and began visiting us more often after the fact.