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Contrary to Popular Belief, Dentists Don’t Use Novocaine

May 24, 2016
Posted By: Dr. Russell D. Mann

Novocaine was first produced back in 1905 by a German chemist, Alford Einhorn. He didn’t develop it for dental procedures, but rather for amputations. When surgeons preferred a general anesthetic, dental professionals ended up finding novocaine very useful for their procedures. Einhorn didn’t like that his development was being used in a way that was unintended, and he even toured dental schools around the country to advise them not to use it. Today, dentists don’t use novocaine. But it’s not because of Einhorn’s effort to get them to stop.
Novocaine is actually the brand name for procaine, which is the name of the anesthetic itself. Before it was synthesized, dentists used cocaine as a local anesthetic. Before that, people would just drink copious amounts of alcohol to numb the pain. The cocaine was more effective than alcohol, but it also didn’t lst long and had a high potential for addiction, as well as adverse effects on the heart.

Novocaine became the better choice in comparison to cocaine, but it still had its drawbacks. One was the patient’s potential for an allergic reaction. The people who suffered from allergic reactions weren’t allergic to the novocaine itself, but to PABA, a metabolite of the novocaine. The reactions ranged from mild to severe, and drug makers got to work developing a new class of local anesthetics.

Dentists don't use novocaine in 1946, lidocaine was discovered and it was put on the market in 1948. It was more effective than novocaine and didn’t have the same frequency of allergic reactions. In the 1960s, the use of novocaine began to decline, and by the 1980’s nearly all dentists were using lidocaine.

Still, over 30 years later, most people refer to lidocaine as novocaine, even though that isn’t the case. We can only guess that since novocaine was such a great advancement from cocaine, it became a part of people’s lives through stories they passed on about experiences at the dentist. Since the switch the lidocaine wasn’t as widely noticed, people just kept saying novocaine, and no one corrected them.

Whatever the reason, I hope this blog post helps to set the record straight in letting people know that dentists don’t use novocaine

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