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So my story is probably fairly common, or at least common among people who visit forums titled "Dental Phobia and Fear." I think my problems started before birth when, as one dentist put it, the nerves in my jaw were "wired wrong." I've not checked this with any dental anatomy sites, but apparently one in a hundred people has some nerves routed a little differently; the practical ramifications of which are an inability to deaden the lower jaw. Or at least deaden it enough.

Throughout childhood, the teen years, and early adulthood, I simply put up with having dental work with effectively no anesthetic (on the lower teeth, the uppers are fine.) I remember one time as a youth getting... well.. I don't remember how many shots of novocain. I remember being quite ill and nearly scratching a hole in my cheek going after an imaginary itch. To this day I still get pretty ill with local anesthetic.

As you can imagine, trips to the dentist were pretty traumatic. I averaged a cavity every year from age 7 to 21. Did I mention the fact that I really didn't like the dentist?

Eventually when I was in the Marine Corps, the Navy dentist working on my teeth was about to offer me an anesthetic, which I politely declined. His response was something like, "you don't fit the bill for the psychotic type." Apparently it's more common than you would think to have Marines decline anesthetic for dental procedures. After explaining that no amount of novocain would deaden my lower jaw, he said something like, "oh... you must have your nerves routed wrong..." and proceeded to look very carefully at the X-Rays of my rear molars. (actually we had to have a new set of X-Rays done, but that's beside the point...)

A couple of minutes later he hit me with two shots and surprisingly, my lower jaw was completely deadened. After leaving the service, I started asking around at various dentists explaining what had happened. One dentist told me he thought I was imagining things... Well... he didn't get to drill on my teeth. I eventually found a dentist that seemed to know what I was talking about.

First thing he did was take a couple more X-Rays and pour over them for half a minute. He did the same thing: bent one needle, then a second shot and viola! no pain. Sadly he retired early the next year after developing arthritis in his fingers. Yikes!

So, is this something that anyone else has encountered. I've been led to believe that it's not a completely uncommon experience, something like one out of a hundred people have to worry about it.

Comment: The dentists who successfully numbed the poster's teeth were using a different technique of giving the local than the "standard" inferior dental block used by 99% of dentist - either a Gow-Gates block or an Akinosi block.

Both are considered "advanced" techniques and not commonly taught to undergraduates at dental school, but are taught in some post-graduate courses, which very few dentists attend. Some dentists will have had a tutor who taught them those techniques.

Such instances of extreme "anatomical variation" are very rare, and they occur in the lower jaw (for anatomical reasons). Failure to get numb can be due to other factors - some dentists are simply not good with local anaesthesia but don't think they have a problem or don't care that they do. Anxiety can also delay the action of local anaesthesia.

If you experience problems with being numbed, please consider posting on our dental phobia message board for advice.

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