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Anesthetic gel numbs the surface skin on which it is used. This type of gel is applied topically. In many cases, an anesthetic gel is applied to prepare an area for injection. Dentists use anesthetic gel to numb the gums before giving the patient a shot of Novocaine®. Physicians use anesthetic gel on patients requiring stitches by spreading the gel on the skin before injecting a stronger numbing agent.
Several methods can be used to apply an anesthetic gel. A cotton-tip swap is commonly used to rub the gel on gums at the dentist's office. At the emergency room or physician's office, cotton gauze or a sterilized brush applicator are often available. In addition, some gels are squeezed from a tube and applied by a finger covered in a surgical glove.
Gel used for oral treatments is usually flavored to make it easier for the patient to handle having it applied in his or her mouth. Anesthetic gel used outside of the mouth is not flavored but may have an agent added to make it feel cool as it is applied. Most gels are clear colored, though the flavored gels may be dyed to match their flavor components.
Once applied, the gel requires a minimum of one minute to begin numbing the skin. Research has shown that waiting two to three minutes after applying it provides profound numbing. Studies also concluded that a 10 to 15 second wait, common in many medical settings, does not allow the gel time to numb the skin.
Anesthetic gel has also been shown to reduce discomfort during mammograms. The gel is applied over the entire breast, and once the skin is numb, the patient submits to the mammogram procedure. Health experts hope that by making the procedure less painful, more women will undergo regular mammography screenings.
As a treatment for pain due to rashes or other skin surface injuries, use of an anesthetic gel that contains a warming component has proven successful in at least one research study. The study found that by applying a warming gel over the painful area, pain relief was achieved in the majority of study participants. Over-the-counter gel is available for mild toothaches and other minor problems.