Dentistry and Anesthesia have always been connected, as pain management is a big factor in the job of helping patients take care of their teeth.
According to the British Journal of Anesthesia, it was a Connecticut dentist named Horace Wells who first came up with the idea of using “laughing gas” as a general anesthetic. Boldly enough, he was his own first test patient in 1844: Wells used nitrous oxide as an anesthetic while having his own wisdom teeth extracted. In 1846, another sedation dentist, named William Morton, demonstrated his use of ether as a pain inhibitor to an amphitheater of physicians and students at Harvard.
It’s safe to say that people really appreciated Wells’ and Morton’s breakthroughs. In a public park in Boston, there’s even an “Ether Monument.” The statue atop the monument anachronistically depicts a Moorish doctor with an ether rag.
Before ether and nitrous oxide, the concept of “painless dentistry” was an oxymoron: The only remedy for toothaches was extraction. As pain management solutions developed, this entirely changed the field of dentistry, because dentists were finally able to focus more on restoring and conserving teeth.
In recent years, sedation dentistry —in which a patient essentially sleeps through a dental visit—has become more and more popular and is largely marketed towards people who are afraid of the dentist and busy professionals who want to get a lot of work done in one sitting. The Journal of the American Dental Association has estimated that as many as 85 million people in the United States avoid the dentist out of fear of pain. That’s a lot of teeth! Our hope is that some of these folks hear about sedation dentistry and decide to give it a try.