How Does Novocaine Work?
Giraffe’s height makes them particularly difficult for dentists.
Alright everyone, sit down. Class is in session. Subject? Novocaine. A drug used almost exclusively (and abundantly) in the dentist office. But why novocaine? And how does it differ from regular ol’ anesthesia?
Let’s start with a little history, shall we? Developed by German chemist Alford Einhorn, novocaine derives it’s name from the latin word for new (nov), and caine which was being used for alkoids. This was used as a replacement for cocaine, because, for some reason, people seemed to like cocaine a little too much. And before that, just alcohol.
Ah 1885. What a time to be alive.
Here’s the zinger: novocaine is just the laymen term for the local anesthetic dentists use. Dentist haven’t used novocaine for over 30 years. Seems novocaine was causing some nasty allergic reactions. Lately, dentists have been using is a chemical called lidocaine hydrochloride primarily. Dentists are very nice though, and they never correct patients that call it incorrectly.
So, how do these local anesthetics work?
Well, first we have to know a little bit about nerves and neurons. Neurons are nerve cells, and they send information that we interpret as pain, or pleasure, or “hey, that’s not supposed to feel wet…” etc. Neurons do not touch, instead they send neurotransmitters that leap from neuron to neuron, like the nerve equivalent of the pony express, only way faster, and no horses.
Here’s a great video describing what I’m talking about:
The way novocaine and other pain killers work is to block this transmission in a given area. This blocked communication makes us feel like the area is numb. And, depending on the dentist or the procedure you’re having done, that is a VERY GOOD THING.
This is a very simplified explanation, but the point is, the chemical being inserted in your mouth is actually just acting to keep the “pain messages” from getting to your brain.