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Understanding Dental Nerve Blocks

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With the increases in dental comfort and techniques for applying anesthesia, many patients are more concerned about the injection of local anesthetic rather than the actual procedure they will be having. This makes sense, because if the anesthetic is applied correctly, you should feel almost nothing throughout the procedure. Knowing what to expect when you receive local anesthesia can make you more relaxed, thereby letting the numbing agent work faster and more efficiently. 

One of the more difficult applications of anesthesia for a dentist to apply is referred to as a block, and it numbs an entire quarter of your mouth. These are known to be the most uncomfortable injections for patients because they penetrate deep into the tissue in the back of the mouth and take a considerable amount of time to be given. Here are the things you should know before you get a dental block. 

When is a block necessary?

Most dentists will use the least amount of anesthesia that effectively numbs the area they are working on. This means that most of your dental work will not require a nerve block. However, if you are getting a deep filling or root canal on any of your molars, your dentist will most likely place a block to make sure all of your roots become numb. 

If you have a tooth towards the middle or the front of your mouth that will not become numb due to an infection, or if you are not sensitive to most anesthesias, your dentist may choose to apply a nerve block to make sure the site he or she is working on stays numb for the entire procedure. 

How should you position your mouth?

Painlessly placing a nerve block takes considerable skill, but there are some things you can do to help your dentist. You should open your mouth wide, but not so wide that your muscles tense. You want your jaw to be as relaxed as possible to make it easier for your dentist to penetrate your tissues. You may want to practice opening your mouth while relaxing you jaw before you go to the dentist. While you practice, practice breathing deeply through your nose to help you remain calm. 

Why does the injection take so long?

When applied correctly, a dental nerve block can take up to a minute for each injection, and usually needs two cartridges of anesthetic. This is because your dentist is going very deep into your tissue and touching your jaw bone. Going slowly allows the medication time to work so that you do not feel the needle penetrating you. 

What should you do immediately following the injection?

It is important to keep your mouth open wide until your dentist tells you to close it. This is because there is a large pocket of tissue at the back of your jaw. If you close your mouth before the medication begins to work, it can fall into the bottom of this pocket and fail to numb the vein. This would result in a weaker numbing, or the anesthesia wearing off too quickly during your procedure. 

Will there be pain when the injection wears off?

Since a large gauge needle is used and it is such a deep injection, there can be slight discomfort at the injection site for 1-2 days after your procedure. If may feel uncomfortable to open your jaw very wide or stick your tongue out. Additionally, since these blocks are used for more complex procedures, you may feel sensitivity around the tooth your dentist was working on. This discomfort should be minor and easily managed with over the counter pain relievers. If it is more intense, or lasts longer than two days, you should contact your dentist. 

Understanding your anesthesia is the first step in taking control of your dental treatment and feeling comfortable during appointments. 

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