There are not too many occasions in our lives that we dread more than going to the dentist to have a cavity filled or a tooth extracted. In addition to the pain and unpleasantness of the actual procedure, most people do not look forward to the preceding injection of Novocain. It doesn't help that the needle, which always seems to look unusually big, is wielded right before our eyes as it is inserted into our mouths.

Now, however, a scientist out of Cambridge may have discovered an all natural solution to dental pain that does not involve any synthetic chemicals or unpleasant injections, and comes from the rainforests of South America.

In fact, in a page out of the movies, the discovery of the painkiller occurred after an anthropologist spent time with an indigenous tribe in Peru. She was in fact the first westerner to be welcomed to live with the Keshwa Lamas of the Amazon rainforest, and while she was with them, she was introduced to many of the tribes traditions and customs.

During her travels in the rainforest, the scientist experienced severe pain stemming from a problem with her wisdom tooth. When one of the tribesman noticed her suffering, he prepared a poultice from a local plant that alleviated the pain immediately. The current painkiller is based on that plant, Acmella Oleracea, which is an ancient tribal remedy that has been used for generations by the locals.

Back here in the states, the plant has been made into a gel that can be applied directly to the gums to numb the tissue. The gel works by blocking nerve endings (sodium channels pathways), and during clinical trials, test subjects expressed a significantly higher level of preference for the gel to needles. Additionally, dentists reported a greater number of patients who returned for additional oral procedures when given the gel instead of injections.

It has been studied in two phases of clinical trials and has thus far been hugely successful, with no known side effects over the course of five years of study. The next step will be a stringent Phase III clinical trial, and if all goes well, the anesthetic should be available for patient use by the year 2014/15. While the initial goal has been to create a natural painkiller, researchers believe that the compound may have applications for problems in other mucous membranes, including gastrointestinal distress.

As part of the drug's development, researchers and pharmaceutical manufacturers in this country will adhere to strict ethical guidelines and will contribute a percentage of the profits to help benefit the Keshwa Lamas community, including the creation of sustainable farms and gardens and an effort to preserve local knowledge for future generations.