What's New? Oraqix, a topical anesthetic that numbs gums during scaling and root planing, those unpleasant poke-and-prod cleaning procedures that keep periodontal disease in check. Though approved last year by the Food and Drug Administration, Oraqix is just now appearing in a dentist's office near you.

Who's It For? Needle-phobes whose fear of shots might make them skip needed cleanings. Oraqix's utility at numbing nerves inside the tooth's pulp hasn't been tested, so it's not used for drilling or other subterranean procedures.

How's It Work? A dentist (or dental hygienist) squirts chilled Oraqix -- a mixture of the common anesthetics lidocaine and prilocaine -- into the "periodontal pocket," the sensitive, below-the-gumline, hard-to-reach-with-a-toothbrush area that's home to disease-causing bacteria. Liquid when it's applied, Oraqix turns into a stay-in-place gel when it hits body temperature. Thirty seconds later, the gum's numb enough for the dental procedure to begin; the tongue and other surrounding tissue aren't affected. Each application lasts about 20 minutes.

The Trade-off Linda Niessen, professor at Baylor College of Dentistry in Houston and vice president for clinical education for Dentsply International (Oraqix's parent company), says one of the three clinical trials supporting Oraqix's effectiveness showed that the new product was slightly less effective than injected anesthetic at muting pain. Patients nonetheless preferred Oraqix, because it let them skip the shot. (The applicator does look like a needle, however, so the truly phobic should be urged to close their eyes as the instrument approaches.)

Sorry, Kids Oraqix's not yet tested for pediatric use.

-- Jennifer Huget