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How Does Novocaine Work?

When I have a cavity filled all I can say is praise to the Novocaine. When my dad was little, his dentist didn't use local anesthetics, and my poor dad had to sit in the chair knowing he was in for a whole lot of pain. My jaw hurts just thinking about it.

I just learned that prior to the invention of Novocaine, cocaine was used as a local anesthetic. Cocaine constricts blood cells, which reduces bleeding, but as we all know it's also highly addictive.

In the early 1900's scientists created a synthetic version of cocaine, but without the nasty side effects, and christened it Procaine. We know it by its trade name Novocaine, and I have no idea why my dad's dentist didn't use it since it was definitely available to the masses when he was a boy. Since its development, stronger local anesthetics have come along like Lidocaine, Septacaine, and Mepivocaine (most dentists still call the shot "Novocaine" though, so ask what they specifically use if you're interested).

These injectable local anesthetics prevent pain in a specific area by blocking the nerves that sense or transmit pain, so the area feels numb for up to 3-4 hours.

All I can say is that even though the shot stinks and can really pinch your gum (and make your mouth really sore for days after), it's still way better than how much it would hurt with NO shot at all.

Fit's Tip: Ask your dentist to apply a topical anesthesia to your gums to numb the area before the Novocaine shot. It makes getting a cavity filled just a little bit easier to bare.


Join The Conversation
Yoonyah Yoonyah 10 years
wackdoodle - this is a horrible story !!! you should go to the dentist again though. There is the possiblity to take valium before you go if you are understandable afraid after this horrific experience.
fulooped fulooped 10 years
I just had all 4 of my wisdom teeth out this morning, and I've never been happier about the invention of Novocaine.
wackdoodle wackdoodle 10 years
My freaking dental insurance randomly assigned me to a new Russian Dentist who started drilling on a cavity in a tooth in the front of my mouth without novacaine and I started screaming. She says in very broken english "Why you scream? Stop moving!" And she revs the drill. I smacked her hand away and got up from the chair and removed the bib. At that point her assistant says to her in Russian "did you give her the novacaine?" And the dentist says,"Oh I forgot." She tells me to sit down. After a few minutes of her speaking to her assistant in russian but not giving me the novaciane shot she tries to drill me again. This time I smacked her face. DONE! She again apologizes. "I forgot to give you the shot but you don't need it do you? It won't hurt that much more than now." My response, "You are a freaking nutjob and a horrible dentist. You didn't even do xrays, so how do you know this is a cavity? I'm calling the insurance company as soon as I leave here and telling them what you did and I'm going to do everything I can to have your license to practice yanked." Apparently, this dentist did this sort of thing A LOT. She charged for novacaine and treatments that she never gave. My dental insurance cancelled the contract with her and I'm still try to get her right to practive revoked. Since that incident a year and half ago I've only been to the dentist once and that was an emergency appointment to fix the hole she had started to drill through my tooth without novacaine. And I used to love going to have my teeth cleaned and cared for by the dentist until this nutjob. I've even had a rootcanal before where the dentist was amazing, I didn't even feel the novacaine shot and there was no pain afterward. But this chick was nuts.
Renees3 Renees3 10 years
I have to have a root canal next friday! I always need extra shots of novicane, guess I have a low tolerance to pain. I always DREAD the dentist, then when he does a filling, I'm like oh yea, I don't feel anything. I think it's the sound and the pain afterward that's the worst!!
LaLaLaurie06 LaLaLaurie06 10 years
my mom's dentist didn't use novocaine either! how weird even though it was around back then.
lemuse20 lemuse20 10 years
I am so thankful to have a good dentist. I must say, it's a bit unnerving when you see that needle go in your mouth, and that shock in a nerve you sometimes feel. But if they numb it before they really numb it, it's a breeze.
wiggle wiggle 10 years
I have a crazy or maybe super centered friend (oh well, an acquaintance really) who just meditates when he has dental work, like cavities filled. I cannot believe it - talk about a powerful mind.
LuciLu LuciLu 10 years
Ugh, I hate the dentist.
jhuck jhuck 10 years
Many drugs that are illegal or more street type drugs (cocaine, ecstasy, l.s.d.) now started as painkillers or psychiatric drugs when they were first discovered. This is why they must do control studies on drugs now before they reach the public. Without these studies in the past they never knew the side effects. Could you imagine how many people were out there on drugs that are today called illegal substances? How many people were seeing hallucinations and colours? lol
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