A new chilli-based local anaesthetic that appears to prevent pain without causing numbness could have a huge impact on dental treatment, according to the British Dental Health Foundation.
The Foundation welcomed the work of the research, which was carried out by Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, and said the new anaesthetic could make procedures quicker, simpler and more convenient.
Dr Nigel Carter, chief executive of the BDHF, said: ‘Of course this research is still in its early stages but it could form the basis of a massive step forward in the battle against dental phobia.
‘According to our own surveys around one in five people who do not visit the dentist make this decision because they have a fear of pain.
‘Although dentistry today is already pain free, some people find the numbness caused by current anaesthetic quite uncomfortable and because their mouth feels unnatural they might perceive the treatment as potentially more painful experience than they otherwise would.
‘It is important that people visit the dentist regularly, as often as their dentist recommends and so anything that can make the experience more convenient and comfortable is welcomed by the Foundation.’
The chilli anaesthetic was created by scientists from a combination of capsaicin (the natural compound that makes chilli peppers hot) and a derivative of the local anaesthetic lidocaine. It works by selectively blocking pain-sensing neurons without interfering with other types of neurons, meaning that the subject doesn’t feel any pain but still reacts in the same way to other sensations such as touch or movement. It has only been tested on rats so far.
Dr Carter added: ‘Anaesthetics are most commonly used for treatments such as fillings and root canal work. Therefore if people find the numbing process uncomfortable then by far the best way to avoid it is for them to take care of their oral health so that they do not require treatment in the first place.’