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Inferior Alveolar Nerve Block and Dental Pain Control

Do you know that weird feeling coming out of your dentist's office after having local anesthesia? That lingering numbness influencing your speech and affecting your ability to eat and drink? Though the feeling can last up to several hours, you know it was important and that the anesthetic injection causing the numbness was crucial to prevent dental pain.

Because it causes your lower jaw (aka your mandible) to feel sensations, your inferior alveolar nerve plays an important role in your dental pain management. An inferior alveolar nerve block (IANB) is the most common injection used to keep you from feeling pain when you have a dental procedure on your bottom teeth.

But what all is involved in an IANB? Its uses, its success rate, its side effects? Curious minds, prepare for the scoop.

Purpose of an Inferior Alveolar Nerve Block Injection

An IANB completely numbs one side of your lower jaw, including the teeth, gums, chin, lower lip, and, in some instances, the tongue.

Dental procedures requiring an IANB might include dental fillings, crowns, mandibular molar extractions, root canal, and periodontal treatments, such as scaling and root planing.

Before a procedure, your dental professional will inject the IANB anesthesia into a targeted area behind your last molar on your lower jaw. (You might also receive a topical numbing agent before an IANB, so you don't feel the needle insertion.)

Your dentist, dental hygienist, or dental specialist will select the anesthetic agent that should work best for you, considering your medical history and the area needing treatment.

IANB Success Rate

Like anything you do in life, success depends on many dynamics. Successful inferior alveolar nerve pain relief usually involves these three factors:

  • Amount and type of the administered anesthetic agent
  • Dental professional's expertise with the anesthesia technique
  • Oral cavity anatomy of the person receiving the IANB

Research published in the journal Decisions in Dentistry found that traditional IANB success rates were as high as 85 percent. If the IANB successfully numbs your lower jaw, you will feel no pain during the dental procedure and might be numb for a few hours.

If the IANB doesn't prove successful in completely numbing your mandible, your dental professional will administer an additional anesthetic or use a different type of injection to numb you. This is not uncommon.

Post-IANB: Potential Side Effects and Oral Care

As noted previously, the loss of sensation can last several hours after your procedure. The most common side effect of IANB anesthesia is unintentional injury from biting your tongue, lips, or cheeks because of the loss of sensation. You should take care to avoid chewing until the numbness subsides.

Though this can happen to all of us without realizing we're injuring ourselves, children and people with developmental disabilities are at particular risk. They might not understand losing sensation in their mouths or how to avoid injury while still numb after a dental procedure.

To avoid injuring yourself, it's best to steer clear of food, drink, and even talking until the numbness subsides. (You can do it!) And stay close to those who might need help avoiding injury.

Less common dental nerve block side effects are bleeding at the injection site and numbness lasting longer than a few hours. This sensation generally affects the lingual nerve serving the tongue, and it eventually subsides. If the numbness or bleeding lasts a day or more, which is a rare occurrence, contact your dental professional.

Of course, the goal is never to need an IANB for a dental procedure – a possibility if you have an excellent daily oral hygiene routine, eat a healthy diet, and visit your dentist regularly.

But if ever needed, know that a successful inferior alveolar nerve block (IANB) or other local anesthesia methods can prevent any pain during a dental procedure. As long as you don't mind a few hours abstaining from food and drink and perhaps being somewhat socially awkward, you'll be thankful for the pain prevention.

This article is intended to promote understanding of and knowledge about general oral health topics. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist or other qualified healthcare provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment.

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