You Can Thank Dr. Morton For Pain Free Dentistry
In 1846, Dr. William Morton performed a pain-free tooth extraction.
This might not sound like much today. When you visit the dentist for any kind of procedure involve drilling or extraction, you know that you will receive anesthesia. You would expect the pain to be numbed, and shocked if it happened otherwise.
It started in 1844, when Morton arrived at Harvard Medical School. He said he wanted to increase his medical knowledge, but the story goes that he was actually trying to impress a young lady (who he later married and was likely the reason he never finished and received a degree). While at Harvard, he took classes by Professor Charles Jackson, learning about chemistry and, fortuitously, ether.
Taking this knowledge out of the book and into practice for his students, Jackson conducted an experiment which demonstrated how inhaling ether would cause a person to become unconscious. Jackson later claimed to be the inventer of using ether to render patients unconscious, but never seemed to have made the connection to telling his colleagues to use ether in their surgery. Morton, however, had other ideas, logging this phenomenon in his mind.
In order to continue to study at Harvard, Morton practiced dentistry as a way to earn an income and pay for classes. He’d already established himself as an innovator, creating a system for false teeth to be attached to gold plates. His experience in dentistry and the pain experience by tooth extraction had caused him to experiment with other drugs to alleviate the discomfort in his patients. However, he was never fully satisfied.
When a former business partner, Horace Wells, found himself unable to convince an audience that nitrous oxide would allow for pain-free surgery, Morton remembered Professor Jackson. He consulted him, and was reminded of using ether. Before publicly demonstrating the use of ether, he experimented on himself (yes!), animals and eventually tried it out on a dental patient named Eben Frost, extracting a tooth. He then wrote about his success in the local paper, which caught the attention of others who arranged for an “official”demonstration of the use of ether by surgeon John Collins Warren.
Morton was late for the demonstration, and Warren nearly started the surgery in the amphitheater the old way — patient fully awake — but Morton arrived at the last minute with a device in which to deliver the ether. The audience was amazed; instead of the usual screams of pain, the surgery was quiet and successful, the patient fully unconscious.
One month after Dr. Morton extracted that tooth from Frost, Warren surgically removed a tumor from the neck of a patient…pain free. Thanks to Dr. Morton, you don’t have to experience surgery or painful procedures with pain.