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Anesthesia: the basics

Anesthesia means a loss of sensitivity to pain, with or without consciousness, especially as induced by artificial means. The three main types of anesthetic used in dental procedures are local, sedation, and general. Each type of anesthetic for dental procedures has a slightly different function, explained in greater detail below.

Anesthetic medications can be combined for a specific effect tailored to the patient’s needs. The age, health condition, and allergies of the patient factor into the decision as well as any negative reactions to anesthetics in the past.

We’ve compiled a thorough guide to anesthetics commonly used in dental procedures, with basics for beginners and resources for practiced dental professionals. Visit the MediDent Supplies Shop Page to stock up on supplies for your dental practice, or stop by the PPE Shop to ensure your office is in compliance with your state’s guidance.

Choosing the right anesthetic

Dentists have been using novocaine and a variety of other experimental anesthetics to numb patients’ gums since the mid-20th century. Today, there are many options for dentists to choose from. Choosing the right anesthetic can help ensure patients have the most relaxing experience possible, which has the potential to promote future healthy choices.

Around 10 to 30 percent of people have anxiety and concerns about pain with dental procedures, which can delay patients seeking treatment and potentially exacerbate the problem.

Local anesthesia for dental procedures

Local anesthesia is used for simpler dental procedures such as treating caries (cavities). Patients are conscious and able to communicate, but the treated area becomes numb after the anesthetic is applied.

Most local anesthetics take under 10 minutes to take effect, and last for up to an hour. They come in many forms including gels, ointments, creams, sprays, patches, liquids, and injectable forms. The majority of dentists choose application of local anesthetic to the inner cheek or gum with a dental syringe.

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The one thing local anesthetics have in common is that their names end with “cain.” Examples include articaine, bupivacaine, mepivacaine, prilocaine, and the most common form in dentistry, Lidocaine.

In some cases, a mix of nitrous oxide and oxygen (sometimes referred to as “laughing gas”) will be administered in combination with a local anesthetic. Patients remain conscious, but will feel more relaxed and at ease. When the breathing mask is removed, the effects of the nitrous will wear off quickly. This method is very safe and effective for most minor procedures.

For more information on the safe usage of nitrous oxide for dental professionals, see the CDC’s Health and Safety Practices Survey of Healthcare Workers.

For all medical professionals administering gaseous anesthetics, visit OSHA’s Anesthetic Gases: Guidelines for Workplace Exposures.

Anesthesia Options Medident Supplies


Sedation is a deeper form of anesthesia, which involves placing an intravenous catheter and titrating medicine into the bloodstream. There are varying levels of sedation, categorized as mild, moderate, or deep. This method is most often chosen in order to relax patients who have anxiety, require additional pain relief, or need assistance to remain still throughout their procedure.

This anesthetic method can cause procedure amnesia; many patients report recollection of conversations prior to and after procedures but have little to no memory of the procedure itself.

Sedatives can be delivered orally, inhaled, intramuscularly, or intravenously. Medications used for sedation include diazepam (Valium), midazolam (Versed), propofol (Diprivan), and nitrous oxide.

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General anesthesia for dental procedures

General anesthesia is used for long dental procedures or highly anxious patients. This is what people often mean when they refer to being “put to sleep” prior to a surgical procedure. Patients are completely unconscious throughout the procedure, and may require assistance getting home afterwards.

This method of anesthesia is usually necessary for highly intensive dental procedures, such as impacted wisdom tooth removal or dental implant placement. General anesthesia medications include propofol, ketamine, etomidate, midazolam, diazepam, methohexital, nitrous oxide, desflurane, and isoflurane.

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Stay safe with MediDent Supplies

Dentists nationwide choose MediDent Supplies as their one-stop shop for a full range of dental supplies for surgical procedures and beyond. For delivering anesthesia, visit our shop for top-of-the-line dental syringes and delivery system parts.