As one of the most commonly used forms of pain relief in dentistry, local anesthetics are a great way to temporarily control pain during oral therapy. It works by numbing the area to be treated, resulting in a pain-free procedure. And, unlike general anesthetics, this type of pain relief doesn’t cause patients to lose consciousness. This makes local anesthetics generally safer to use, reduces the need for special preparation procedures, and increases recovery time.

How do local anesthetics work?

Local anesthetics numb the area they are applied to by stopping the nerves in that area from sending pain signals to your brain. Technically, there is still pain during a procedure, but it cannot be felt. You may still be able to feel a small amount of pressure or movement, but otherwise you will not feel any pain.

The numbing effect takes place considerably quickly after being applied – usually within a few minutes. Effects typically wear off after around 3 hours, meaning the majority of patients can continue with their day after receiving treatment.

What types of local anesthetic are available?

Generally, there are two products that are commonly used in dentistry:


  • Novocaine (Procaine)
  • Lidocaine Hydrochloride 2%


Although Novocaine is an older product, it remains incredibly popular in dentistry due to its reliability and effectiveness. However the newer product, Lidocaine Hydrochloride 2%, is quickly increasing in popularity. The addition of a small amount of a chemical called epinephrine helps to constrict the blood vessels in the treated area, which helps to prolong the effects.

How are local anesthetics applied? Does it hurt?

If you were undergoing a fairly standard procedure such as a filling, the local anesthetic would be applied to your gums near the tooth to be treated. Your dentist would first apply a preinjection numbing agent if you’re not so keen on needles. The local anesthetic is then injected into your gum using a very small-diameter needle – so small, in fact, that you may not even feel it.

The injection usually cannot be felt, and any sensation that might be felt is often described as a very light scratch.

What can I feel after receiving a local anesthetic?

When properly applied, you should not feel anything. You may feel a small amount of pressure and movement when your dentist is treating you, but there will be no pain in the area being treated. The effects of the local anesthetic will begin to wear off after the procedure has been completed, and full sensation should return within around 3 hours.

Depending on your needs, or if you have certain allergies or heart problems, your dentist may choose to apply other forms of local anesthetic. They will know the best type of pain control for you, and will be pleased to discuss your needs.