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Today marks dental anesthesia milestone

December 11, 2018 Dec. 11 marks the 174th year a Hartford, Connecticut, dentist had one of his third molars extracted to test the analgesic properties of nitrous oxide.
Portrait image of Dr. Wells
Dr. Wells
It was Dr. Horace Wells' introduction of nitrous oxide, and the demonstration of anesthetic properties of ether by Dr. William Morton, a student of Dr. Wells', that gave the gift of anesthesia to medicine and dentistry. Dr. Wells is known as the "Father of Surgical Anesthesia."
In an ADA policy statement that addresses the use of sedation and general anesthesia, dentistry today has continued to build upon their findings and has been instrumental in developing safe and effective sedative and anesthetic techniques that have enabled millions of people to access dental care.
And to think that it began after a clerk in an apothecary shop in Hartford ran into some wooden benches while under the influence of nitrous oxide. Although the clerk had injured his legs, he was unaware of his injuries until the nitrous oxide had worn off, according to a 2013 article in Anesthesiology, the journal of the American Society of Anesthesiologists.
Dr. Wells, who was attending an exhibition of nitrous oxide, spoke with the clerk and he realized that nitrous oxide could be useful in dentistry. On Dec. 11, 1844, Dr. Wells underwent a tooth extraction while under nitrous oxide. The extraction was conducted by Dr. John M. Riggs in Hartford.
About a month later, in January 1845, Drs. Wells and Riggs held a public demonstration in Boston that was regarded as a failure. It took another year until Dr. Morton conducted the first successful public demonstration of the use of ether anesthesia for surgery. According to the ADA Library & Archives, Crawford Long, a physician, claimed he used ether as an anesthetic in an operation as early as 1842 but did not publish his work.
The use of sedation and general anesthesia in dentistry is safe and effective when properly administered by trained individuals, according to an ADA policy statement. The American Dental Association strongly supports the right of appropriately trained dentists to use these modalities in the treatment of dental patients and is committed to their safe and effective use.
For more information on ADA guidelines and policy on anesthesia and sedation, visit and search "anesthesia and sedation."