Anesthetic isn’t working? Clearly, you’re too fat.

Zorya writes:

I’m 23 years old, 5’9″ and 244 lbs at last weighing. I do my best to be healthy, knowing I will never be slender, because my family has a laundry list of medical problems. It’s a miracle I don’t have any of them, apart from clinical depression, anemia, and some very mild cholesterol issues. Seeing a doctor has always been problematic for me. When I was a kid, it was a lack of money and insurance. Now, it’s fear.

When I moved to the city to live with my now-husband, I made my first dentist’s appointment in years with his family dentist. I had a broken tooth that had needed to be pulled for years and has now affected the alignment of another tooth. The dentist didn’t pull it right away. First, he wanted to drill some problem areas, which I agreed to, figuring I could use the repair job. He injected me with a local anesthetic and went to work.

But it wasn’t working. My cheek and tongue were numb, but I could still feel the pain in my teeth. When I tried to tell him, he told me I was just afraid of the drill and to stop whining. I’m not the most hardened of hearts, but a dentist’s drill doesn’t scare me. He continued working, while I tried not to cry and prayed he’d be done quickly. I left angry and in pain, but made a second appointment to deal with the actual broken tooth. The next visit was even worse and he still didn’t pull the tooth, but, I was so desperate, I made a third appointment and told him that we either needed to find a better anesthetic or something, but I wasn’t going to suffer through it again. He once again told me I was being unreasonable and a scaredy-cat. That third visit he gave me a double dose of the same anesthetic and all I got was half a numb face. I screamed and kicked, just trying to get his attention long enough to say, “HEY! I’m in pain here! This isn’t helping!” He told me to stop being a baby. After he left the room, I vented to his assistant, who agreed with me.

That night, I got a phone call from the dentist. He offered up a grudging apology, but informed me that the anesthetic should have worked and would probably work best if I lost about 30 pounds. I was devastated. I walked four miles a day, back then. I danced for about six hours every week. I was hardly eating (my regular diet consisted of ramen, grits, and canned peas). I weighed less and was in better shape (though, probably heinously malnourished) then than I did in high school. 30 pounds would have killed me.

For four years, I’ve avoided seeing a medical professional, out of fear. When we moved out to the country, I broke down and saw an NP. He checked me out, did some tests and informed me that I was hardly obese (the fact that I walked the two miles to get there might have helped) and would probably benefit from a therapist, rather than a nutritionist. I’m probably lucky that all it did was damage my self-esteem, as I could have fallen prey to any of the medical complaints my family has. But, the fact is, it did the damage and I’ve been afraid to see any health care professional since then.

Thanks for your time and your blog.

Leave a comment


  1. Sarah

     /  January 4, 2010

    I’ve had problems with dental anesthetic in the past – but really it has nothing to do with weight. The stuff was working since your cheek and other areas were numb. The problem is more than likely either incompetence on the dentist’s part (he’s injecting the stuff in the wrong place) or an infection. I’ve been told that infected tissue does not freeze well. Find a new dentist – because this one’s an ass and you don’t need that – and ask the dentist if you might have an infection.

    Also, everyone needs a different amount of the freeze – some people are affected for hours with only a little and some need several shots, and its independent of weight.

    Try this website for more info:
    Its not just you, its not because you have a few extra pounds – and there are several possible problems and solutions. Good luck, and I hope this awful dentist doesn’t sour you totally on dental care.

  2. Tal

     /  January 4, 2010

    This guy was full of it. I’ve had plenty of dental surgery with no problems with numbness whatsoever, and I’m far bigger.

    Some people simply don’t respond to anesthetics, and some providers are bad at getting them injected correctly.

  3. La di Da

     /  January 4, 2010

    Stay well away from any health care provider who doesn’t understand the difference between a local anaesthetic and a systemic general anaesthetic!

  4. Mina

     /  January 4, 2010

    I would try a new dentist! I’m heavier than you at 5’3 and 262 pounds, and whereas I’m very resistant to local anesthetic, I’ve never had it completely fail, and never had a doctor suggest that I need to lose weight to be able to have it work!

  5. Pauli

     /  January 5, 2010

    Somehow I’m fat (BMI of 34,1), always demand an anesthetic and it always works on my teeth. So the dentist is trying to blame his own incompetence and lack of professional knowledge & skills on you – the way he’s treating you is also appalling. Change the dentist and do it quickly. Good doctors are hard to find, but it’s worth it, they’re supposed to be helping, not scarring you for life.

  6. Geogrrl

     /  January 5, 2010

    The dentist was full of it. I have a similar problem, and it has nothing to do with weight. I have a set of “auxiliary nerves”, as one dentist put it, in my lower jaw. Thus, injecting anaesthetic in the usual places won’t do it. He said it’s no big deal, it just means he has to do some extra injections, and always tests before starting work on me. I’ve warned subsequent dentists of this. They understood right away and had no problem with it.

  7. Incompetent dentist, no question.

    I had a bad dental local anesthetic experience once too; and was treated as a crybaby, although I wasn’t told to lose weight. A different dentist explained later that some people need injections in extra places because they have extra nerve endings or something.

    Later on, had four wisdom teeth dug out of my jaw using a local plus a light general anesthetic, versed. That was pretty painless. Incidentally, I weighed 300 pounds at the time and nothing was made of my weight.

    I wish you luck finding a good health care team.

  8. Danielle

     /  January 7, 2010

    Local anesthetic dosage doesn’t have much to do with body weight. Your dentist had no clue what he was talking about.

  9. malpaz

     /  January 23, 2010

    Im not trying to butt in but have you checked out Zeroing in on Health? it may beneit you

  10. ammonoid

     /  January 23, 2010

    Your dentist was just full of it. Everyone’s anatomy is a little bit different, and you probably have nerves that are not exactly where your dentist was expecting to find them, so your face when numb but not your jaw. It has absolutely nothing to do with your weight. I had a similar experience when my dentist numbed me up to do a filling but the tooth she was working on didn’t get numb. All that happened was she went “oops!”, I guess your nerve is in a different place and she shot me up a second time. No problem. Your dentist is an incompentant asshole.

  11. Weight, ha. I had to have dental surgery when I was a slim 10-year-old, and the local anaesthetic didn’t work on me either. After two rounds of shots I felt numb-ish but being tapped on the gum with a pointy dental thing still hurt, so we went home without surgery that day, and came back later to have it done under full anaesthetic.

  12. Mary

     /  March 18, 2010

    I’m a dental hygienist. I have given a lot of injections to grossly overweight people, and never had a problem getting them numb enough. It’s most likely that the dentist didn’t give you a “block” but just poked some anesthetic in. It’s also a possibility he did not weight long enough for it to work completely. Dentists like him should be reported to your state dental board.

  13. Jackie

     /  July 21, 2010

    I had a similar experience with a dentist. I needed to get a cavity drilled, and he kept drilling it despite my screaming..yeah it was so bad I was screaming like a chick being chased by a axe waving murderer in a horror film. When I tried to get up to get my parents (I’m 28 now, this was like hmm..when I was in my teens probably), he kept pushing me into my chair.

    My mom got him on reccomendation from someone who said he was good with kids with special needs, turns out it was the other dentist in the office who was good with kids with special needs. I think this dentist must have thought all special need kids, are just stupid and incapable of feeling. I wasn’t screaming out of pain, I was screaming because that’s what r-words do all the time anyways.

    It’s these kind of dentists, that lead to the negative stereotyping of dentists as sadists. Like the dentist from Little Shop of Horrors for example. It really does a disservice to good dentists, who have to pick up the peices after a patient has been trumatized by a bad dentist.

    I now see a dentist who uses a combonation of oxygen and nitrous everytime I visit, I suggest you find a dentist like this. The oxygen nitrous combonation doesn’t leave you with any more problems than feeling a bit drowsy afterwards, some people react negatively to it, but not many. I mean, if they react negatively to it, it is more likely due to an anxiety reaction not a problem with the nitrous, and if it’s the nitrous, that’s even more rare.

    The thing is you have to be okay with feeling kind of, I can’t think of a better term for this, feeling sort of stoned. Some people, like my mom, don’t like the feeling of their body feeling numb or altered. For me, it’s really very relaxing and I have absolutely no problem with any of the procedures while using it. The dentist said most dentists like it too, because it makes things easier for themselves and the patients. That’s how you know you’ve got a good dentist, when they are willing to go the extra mile to see that you’re okay. Not be abusive, and calling you a scaredy cat for reacting to being tortured by them.

    I honestly, don’t understand where these type of dentists who think telling the patient off come from. I’m guessing it’s something to do with being power trippers and getting a rise from being in a position of authority.

  14. Something like that would never happen in our office

  15. This makes me so angry I cannot even stand it. I would have reacted the same way. Now a days I would have done everything in my power to take him down. Turn him into the dental board, write bad reviews. You name it. He should not be practicing.

  16. If he called you after the visit, it means he thought about it and is afraid you’re going to file a complaint with the Dental Board. Great idea – do it!


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