Novocaine, a brand of procaine, is a local anesthetic drug. A local anesthetic is a medication or technique used to numb a specific part of the body. Unlike general anesthesia, local anesthetics don’t make you lose consciousness.

A local anesthetic drug may be used during the following minor procedures:

  • a filling for a tooth cavity
  • wisdom tooth removal
  • a minor skin procedure, like removing a mole or a wart
  • certain types of eye surgery, such as cataract removal
  • a biopsy (when a sample of tissue is removed from a part of your body for examination under a microscope)

Developed in 1905, Novocaine was the first synthetic local anesthetic to become widely used in the United States. Before Novocaine, cocaine was often used clinically as a local anesthetic. While many newer local anesthetics have since been developed, Novocaine is still sometimes used during certain procedures.

How it works

Novocaine works by blocking the nerves in your body from sending pain signals to your brain. A doctor or dentist can use it to numb the part of the body they are working on so you don’t feel any pain during the procedure.

The effects of Novocaine normally don’t last very long in the body. In fact, Novocaine is the shortest-acting injectable anesthetic. After Novocaine is injected, you’ll begin to feel numb after 5 to 10 minutes. The numbing sensation typically lasts 30 to 60 minutes.

Since Novocaine by itself has a very short duration of action, it’s often used in conjunction with epinephrine (adrenaline) to make the effects last a little longer. If Novocaine is administered with epinephrine, the effects last roughly 90 minutes.

Exactly how long the effects of Novocaine last also depends on the dose administered by your doctor or dentist. The dose varies with the type of procedure you are having, the size of the area that needs to be numbed, and the number of nerves that need to be blocked. Your doctor might also give you a higher dose if they wish to numb the area for a longer period of time in order to complete the procedure. The effects of Novocaine also vary slightly from person to person.

In the body, Novocaine is processed (metabolized) by an enzyme known as pseudocholinesterase. About 1 in every 5,000 people has a genetic condition that makes them unable to break down (hydrolyze) Novocaine and similar medications. This condition is called pseudeocholinesterase deficiency. It’s more common in certain populations, including the Persian Jewish community and Alaska Natives. People with this deficiency are more sensitive to Novocaine, and its effects may last much longer.

Novocaine is considered very safe. It’s possible to overdose on Novocaine, but your doctor and dentist will use careful calculations in ensure this doesn’t happen. Using Novocaine along with epinephrine can also help reduce the possibility of an overdose since less Novocaine is needed to produce a sustained numbing effect.

Novocaine is administered into the body by injection, which can be uncomfortable or painful for some people. You might feel a burning sensation for a few seconds as the drug is injected. As the effects of Novocaine wear off, you may feel a tingling sensation in the area where it was injected. The area may also feel sore.

Side effects from Novocaine are usually very mild and will usually go away quickly. They may include:

  • numbness or tingling sensations (like pins and needles)
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • drowsiness
  • twitching muscles
  • minor pain at the injection site

It’s possible to have an allergic reaction to Novocaine, but this is exceedingly rare. Symptoms of an allergic reaction to Novocaine include:

  • itching
  • hives
  • difficulty breathing
  • swelling of the face or hands
  • loss of consciousness

Novocaine is generally used for procedures lasting less than 90 minutes. This is because the effects of Novocaine are short-lasting. Novocaine will typically last between 30 and 90 minutes. The time it lasts depends on the procedure you are having and if epinephrine is used with Novocaine.

However, Novocaine isn’t used as frequently today compared to other of local anesthetics. Your doctor or dentist might choose to use lidocaine (Xylocaine). This drug tends to last longer than Novocaine (about 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on whether or not epinephrine is used).

If you have any concerns or questions about the local anesthetic used during your medical or dental procedure, ask your doctor or dentist.