In a previous post, we explored what oral surgery was like in the times before the invention of anesthesia. But how was it discovered and by whom?
Dr. William Morton
Although he was never officially rewarded or awarded for his contribution to dentistry, Dr. William Morton is attributed with the initial discovering of general anesthesia for use in the medical field. Prior to his discovery, nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, had been used as a weaker form of anesthesia, but it was not strong enough to be considered an effective general anesthesia.
In the 1840s, Dr. Morton began searching for a way to extract teeth entirely painlessly. He eventually talked with Dr. Charles Jackson about the dilemma, and Dr. Jackson, who happened to be both a scientist and a physician, suggested the usage of ether. When Dr. Morton looked further into this suggestion, he became more and more intrigued. He eventually ended up testing the effects of ether on both himself and his pet dog (remember, it was the 1840s; research regulations and resources were far from what they are today).
Finally, in 1846, a patient named Eben Frost came into his office asking for a tooth extraction to remedy his unbearable toothache. Dr. Morton offered the idea of ether as anesthesia to Frost, who accepted it. Luckily, the procedure was successful and Frost came out of his tooth extraction without having felt any pain! Imagine what a breakthrough this was in a time when tooth extractions were directly correlated to the thought of intense pain and suffering. Later, Dr. Morton shared this finding in a public demonstration, in which he acted as the anesthetist during a surgeon Dr. John Warren’s procedure to remove a neck tumor from a patient. The demonstration was a success and word of this innovation spread like wildfire.
With the idea of general anesthesia introduced, so many possibilities were opened up throughout the dental and general healthcare worlds. It enabled more extensive and complex procedures and allowed for new remedies to a variety of ailments.
The invention of anesthesia is one of the biggest impacts on dentistry in all of time. The next time you or a loved one needs an operation that involves anesthesia, count your blessings and think of Dr. Morton.