Researchers from the University of São Paulo say that new findings could help improve dental procedures and bring relief to millions of people who are scared of needles. They could also save money and avoid contamination and infection.
To minimise discomfort, dentists use anaesthetics to block pain, which are administered using needles. However, many patients are afraid of these injections, resulting in them postponing and even cancelling visits to the dentist.
For these patients, an additional step is needed: dentists first give them a topical painkiller to reduce the pain – and associated fear – caused by the needle. This can come in the form of a hydrogel, ointment or sprays that can contain lidocaine and prilocaine.
In this study, researchers investigated a way to get these topical anaesthetics into the body more effectively, to see if they could replace needles altogether. They found that applying a tiny electric current – a process called iontophoresis – made the anaesthetics more effective.
The researchers first prepared the anaesthetic hydrogels with a polymer to help them stick to the lining of the mouth. They added two anaesthetic drugs, prilocaine hydrochloride and lidocaine hydrochloride. They found that the anaesthesia was fast acting and long lasting. The electric current made the prilocaine hydrochloride enter the body more effectively, and the permeation of the anaesthetic through the mouth lining increased 12-fold.
The researchers say that this technology has applications not only in dentistry, but also in other areas such as cancer treatment.
They now plan to develop an iontophoretic device to use specifically in the mouth.