Most people don’t know this, but it was actually dentists, not doctors, who first discovered and started applying anesthesia in their practice. This fact may be little-known but it’s not all that surprising when you think about it.
Although the enamel that coats our teeth is one of the hardest substances known to humankind, it is not indestructible. And when it gets penetrated for whatever reason and the nerves that make up the inner core of our teeth are exposed, you start to feel pain. And when somebody starts prodding around a bad tooth, it hurts even more. That’s why the fear of dentists has been around for as long as dentists themselves.
Luckily, humankind is very resourceful, especially when it comes to its own comfort. There are records dating back to 2250 B.C. detailing Man’s attempts to alleviate dental pain (henbane seed mixed with gum mastic as used by the ancient Babylonians). And things have come a long way since then. Nowadays, a visit to your dentist is a relatively painless procedure thanks to the wide range of dental sedation techniques available to us. Below we’ll give you a brief outline of the events that led us to this happy state of affairs.
Getting a dental anesthetic in the old days was very much a hit-and-miss affair. And from the cocaine used in Europe in the 1800s to the bottle of whiskey or blow to the head used in the Old West (if the films are to be believed that is), the methods that were used often did more harm than good. Here’s how some of the safer methods developed.
Joseph Priestly discovered nitrous oxide (laughing gas) in 1772 but it wasn’t used in dentistry until more than 20 years later. Before that people took it for fun, as the name implies. In 1844, a dentist, Horace Wells from Hartford, Connecticut, used it while extracting his own tooth. He noticed the reduced pain and suggested it could be used as an anesthetic. Unfortunately, when he tried to demonstrate this on a patient at Massachusetts General Hospital, the patient screamed. It was another 20 years before anybody was willing to try it again. Nowadays, of course, nitrous oxide is a tried and tested favorite in many dental practices.
Local anesthesia was being used by the end of the 19th century. Cocaine was commonly used but was eventually rejected as too many patients ended up dead, quite often due to overdoses.
Safer alternatives became available in 1943. These were cinchocaine and lignocaine. Today the safe alternative, novocaine, is used to numb the gum.
Partly as a result of the two world wars in the 1900s, the science and techniques of anesthesia were developed rapidly. One of these new techniques was IV (intravenous) administration of sedatives. It was found that this method gave better control and, therefore, better results than other forms of administration. It was rapidly accepted in dentistry, although the drugs used changed over time. Nowadays, most dentists in America use benzodiazepines such as Midazolam and Diazepam for IV sedation.
It is not really a form of anesthesia, and we’re not sure when the practice of oral sedation in dentistry began, but this resource deserves a mention. It is a valuable tool used to calm patients with extreme dental anxiety. Sedatives can be administered up to days prior to the appointment to help the patient manage their anxiety. The most commonly used sedatives are Benzodiazepines such as triazolam.
Modern dentists understand the fears of their patients and realize the importance of alleviating them. We can’t guarantee you’ll enjoy a trip to our offices but, thanks to our highly trained staff and modern anesthesia and sedation services, we can guarantee it will be as pleasant and painless as possible so book your appointment today.