young woman with numb face after dentist holding face

There’s nothing like the total dental numbness you feel after a dental procedure like a filling or crown treatment. Even if it doesn’t feel totally numb, the tingling or “fat” feeling in your mouth may seem to take forever to wear off. Is there a way to make the numbing sensation go away after dentist visits?

How Does Novocaine Work?

Novocaine is just one of many different types of local anesthetics, however Novocaine actually hasn’t been used in dental offices since the 1950s. Nowadays, common local anesthetics used in dental offices are Lidocaine, Articaine, Mepivacaine, and others. But regardless of which one your dentist uses, local anesthesia medications all typically work similarly to one another. They are injected at specific points in your mouth near nerves (different nerves serve different teeth or parts of your mouth) and block your body’s ability to send pain signals or other stimuli to your brain. Unlike general anesthesia, you are not unconscious with local anesthetic - you can still feel general pressure. It just shouldn’t hurt at all. This is extremely important since teeth have their own nerve running through them and your dentist will need to repair the tooth structure without stimulating the nerve inside of it. Otherwise, you’d be in a lot of pain.[1]

*PLEASE NOTE*

For the purpose of this article, we will refer to “local anesthetics” as “Novocaine” even though Novocaine is no longer used in dentistry.  This is due to the fact that in layman's terms, "local anesthetics” tend to be referred to as "Novocaine," so we’ll run with it for simplicity’s sake.  But, please remember that the local anesthetic drug “Novocaine” is no longer used in dentistry — and it is solely used as a layman's term.

What Will Make The Numbness Go Away Quickly?

Waiting and resting is the easiest way to pass the time while your novocaine wears off. But if it’s driving you nuts or you tend to stay numb longer than most people, there are a few things you can do to try to get the medication to wear off more quickly than it usually does. It may not help immediately, but it can at least speed the process up a little bit.

How To Make “Novocaine” Wear Off Faster

1. Go for a Walk 

As long as you didn’t have serious oral surgery like a wisdom tooth extraction or a dental implant placed, it’s usually ok to get up and move around. When you take a brisk walk or move around a lot it gets the blood flowing, which in turn can help “flush out” the anesthetic medication from the injection site.

2. Massage Your Face

Take your fingertips and gently massage the side of your face in a circular pattern. Just be sure not to press too hard since you can’t feel anything. Massage helps increase blood flow, which is why it works so well on sore muscles. And like walking, an increase in blood flow shortens the duration of the local anesthetic.

3. Time

Local anesthetics like novocaine naturally wear off on their own. If you’ve never had dental numbing medication before, know that this process is totally normal. Give yourself anywhere from 2-4 hours and you’ll typically start to feel your lips and cheeks again.

4. Warm Compress

If you don’t feel like massaging the side of your mouth for 10 minutes, an easier alternative is to just apply a warm compress instead. The warmer temperature will increase blood circulation. Just be sure to test it on your wrist first to make sure the temperature isn’t too hot and give yourself a break at least every 20 minutes.

5. Talk

Are you able to move your mouth ok? Talking is another option if you’re not able to get outside and walk. Moving the part of your body that’s numb will get the blood pumping in that area. Just be prepared to sound a little funny (or slur your speech a little bit) in the process.

6. Take a Nap or Go to Bed

Honestly, taking a nap is a great idea. Chances are you’re probably exhausted from having your mouth worked on, don’t feel like walking or talking, and just want the dental anesthetic to wear off. If you squeeze in a nap on the couch, before you know it, you’ll be good as new.

7. Reversal injection

Some dentists offer a special type of medication that they can inject after your appointment is over, which causes the local anesthetic numbness to wear off in about half the time that it normally does. Just note that these injections mean an extra shot, which can make your mouth sore, and they aren’t free.

How Long Does Novocaine Usually Last? 

Numbing medications work in a lot of different ways. On top of that, everyone responds to them differently. Some people may only feel dental numbness for a couple of hours, while others take four hours or longer before it totally wears off. Remember, you want local anesthetics to last a long time. If they didn’t, you’d run the risk of some serious tooth sensitivity during your dental appointment.[2]

Most novocaine shots will totally wear off within a few hours after your dental treatment. But if you’re still feeling facial or dental numbness a whole day later, you need to talk to your dentist. Anything longer than about six hours isn’t normal.

Can I Drive After Novocaine? 

Absolutely! Local anesthetics don’t make you feel sleepy or cause any type of sedative effects. All they do is cause numbness in the specific area where they’re injected. You can safely complete your procedure and hop right behind the wheel of your car afterward.

Some dentists still use light analgesics and sedatives like nitrous oxide (laughing gas) to help you feel more comfortable. Even though laughing gas doesn’t cause you to be drowsy for hours like other sedation methods, you’ll need at least 10 minutes or so before you’re clear-headed enough to drive back home.

Other Novocaine Side Effects

If you’re struggling with how to make numbness go away after dentist’s visits and it’s already been hours, there could be a super rare chance that some type of nerve damage occurred during the process. Sometimes, people have atypical nerve tissues or nerve locations, and they get irritated during oral surgeries, injections, or more invasive types of dental procedures. While this isn’t “common” per se, it’s a known risk and a reason why every dental patient has to sign a consent form prior to their planned procedure.

In super rare circumstances, nerve damage can cause numbness in your mouth or face for up to several months. Or even permanently.

Being injected with a local anesthetic can also come with a few other potential side effects, like: 

  • Dizziness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Heart palpitations
  • Swelling or bruising
  • Itching and redness
  • Allergic reactions

Since most of the local anesthetics used contain epinephrine—which can increase your heart rate—it’s important to discuss all potential medical issues with your dentist ahead of time. Including if you’re pregnant, could be pregnant, or are taking any type of medications. Known allergies or heart issues need to be discussed well in advance.[3]

If hematomas (bruising) occur, apply an ice pack to that area on and off for every 20 minutes the first day and take ibuprofen as directed. Like other bruises, symptoms will gradually improve with time.

How To Make Novocaine Wear Off Faster

Today’s local anesthetics (or what most people call dental novocaine) work by keeping your mouth numb for at least a couple of hours at a time. Sometimes there are things you can do to help the dental anesthetic wear off more quickly. Like taking a brisk walk, massaging the side of your face, or even being injected with a reversal medication. Side effects and nerve damage are rare, but they do happen from time to time. Always communicate your medical history with your dental provider. If the novocaine causes bruising or extended numbness, be sure to talk to your dentist.

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