tips for making dental work less uncomfortable

Pain Killer Problems: Are You Actually Allergic To Local Anesthetic?

Because local anesthetic forms the base of pain control in most dental offices, it can be really difficult to maintain consistent dental care if you are allergic. However, because an allergy to local pain killers is so rare, you should examine your reaction when you go to the dentist to make sure that you have a true allergy. Even though you have an adverse reaction to a numbing needle, it may not actually be the anesthetic itself that is causing the problem.

Non-Allergic Reactions

True allergy to anesthesia is so rare that studies estimate only 1% of harmful reactions to local anesthetics are actually allergies. Most of the time, these reactions are actually caused by:

1. Overdose

Dentists are specifically trained to administer anesthesia in the proper amounts, but mistakes can always happen. A patient who has too much local anesthesia may absorb some of the drug into the bloodstream, which can alter the heart rate and induce anxiety, likely because of the epinephrine present in dental numbing needles. If you are worried or more susceptible to overdose, it's best to split extensive procedures, like removing wisdom teeth, into separate appointments on different days, so that only a little anesthesia is needed at a time. 

2. Preservatives

It is much more common for patients to be allergic to the chemicals used to make drugs last longer. Preservatives are usually in the form of bisulfites. However, if you do have an allergy to bisulfites, it will show in other areas of your life. For example, you may have a bad reaction to eating some types of food which contain bisulfites as preservatives, like potato chips and beer.

Because normal needles used at the dentist office have these preservatives, you can avoid a bad reaction by informing your dentist of this allergy so that alternative pain relief methods can be used, such as using an anesthetic that is preservative free or using general anesthesia for your procedure. 

3. Latex

Sometimes, patients have a bad reaction to components of the syringe or injector. Many regular needles have a latex plunger or other components. However, because the the latex does not actually get into the tissue of the patient, it is very rare for the patient to suffer from anaphylactic shock due to this contact.

4. Anxiety

It is also possible, if a patient has a great fear of dental work and needles, that a racing heart, shaking, cold sweats and other negative symptoms are caused by anxiety. The body releases stress hormones to trigger a "flight or fight" response when a person perceives danger. In this case, the anxiety would need be resolved before dental work could continue. 

Signs Of True Allergy To Anesthesia

So, how can you know if you really are allergic to a numbing agent? Here are true signs of your immune system reacting to an allergen:

  • breaking out in rashes, like hives
  • anaphylactic shock, characterized by a sudden drop in blood pressure, swelling of tissues (including those in the airway), and itching
  • vomiting and abdominal pain

Your dentist will closely monitor you when providing you with local anesthesia. He or she is trained to watch for these adverse symptoms. Once you have had a bad reaction to a numbing agent, the dentist will suggest allergy testing before trying a different form of pain killer. Most people can usually use a different pain killer, but it is always risky to try until you know for sure which ones you are really allergic to.

Finally, if you do suspect you have an allergy to numbing needles, let your dentist know. They will take your word for it and suggest other methods of pain treatment for major dental work, including hypnosis and general anesthesia for surgery.