How Does Novocain Work?

Novocain, also known as procaine, is a local anesthetic that causes nerve cells to be unable to communicate with one another, thus producing a numbing sensation, according to the University of California Santa Barbara. By inhibiting nervous system communication, Novocain prevents the brain from receiving tactile sensory information.

In order for a person to feel pain or any other tactile sensation, neurons within the nervous system must transmit chemical information to one another through biological chemicals known as neurotransmitters located within the synapses, or the spaces between neurons. Novocaine blocks nerve impulse activity by causing dysfunction within the ion channel and nerve cell membranes, according to Scientific American. Because Novocain is a local anesthetic, it only numbs areas in close proximity to where it is applied in the body.

Depression of nervous system activity and prevention of nerve impulse activity are Novocain's primary effects on the body; however, animal studies show that Novocain increases levels of the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine within the brain.

Local anesthetics such as Novocain differ from general anesthetics in that they don't cause a complete lack of sensation within the body and don't cause a loss of awareness. Novocain was once commonly used in dentistry in the United States, but as of 2014 its manufacture has been discontinued due to the more modern, safe and effective local anesthetics being synthesized.