The ability to control pain is a critical part of all dental procedures. Throughout history, dental professionals have used a variety of methods for dental procedures, from herbal remedies to local anesthetics and nitrous oxide, to create a comfortable and trusting environment for the patient.
With pain-dulling practices starting as early as 2250 BC, the evolution of dental anesthesia has come a long way to help make some of the most invasive oral procedures possible.
2250 BC: A Babylonian clay tablet reveals the remedy for pain of dental cavities. The cement that was used was made by mixing henbane seed with gum mastic.
1000 BC: In India, wine is used to produce insensibility.
1540: Valerius Cordus of Germany introduces synthesized sweet vitriol, now more commonly known as ether.
1564: Ambroise Pare of France obtains local anesthesia by compression of nerves.
1779: Humphry Davy announces the anesthetic properties of nitrous oxide and notably calls it laughing gas.
1842: Morton begins the use of ether in dental and oral procedures.
1844: After demonstrating nitrous to Dr. Horace Wells, traveling showman Gardner Colton gives nitrous oxide to Wells and another dentist, Dr. Riggs, for wisdom tooth extraction.
1846: Dr. Horace Wells demonstrates the use of nitrous oxide for tooth extraction. Since the patient claimed he still felt pain during the experience, it was not considered a successful demonstration.
1853: The hollow needle and hypodermic syringe are invented.
1877: Sister Mary Bernard of the US is considered the first nurse anesthetist.
1884: Carl Koller expounded the value of cocaine for local anesthesia.
1894: H.J. Carlson discovers that ethyl chloride produced a sound sleep in some dental patients.
1904: Procaine, or more commonly known as Novocaine, is discovered.
1915: D.F. Jackson uses carbon dioxide absorber for general anesthesia.
1931: The American Association of Nurse Anesthetists (AANA) is organized by Agatha Hodgins.
1942: Curare, an arrow poison once used by South American Indians, is first used and starts the "Age of Anesthesia."
1943: Lidocaine is synthesized and used as a dental anesthetic in minor surgery.
1956: Halothane, which is still used today, is used clinically for the first time.
1967: Synthesized pancuronium, Pavulon, is first used clinically.
1981: Forane is approved for general use in the United States.
1990: Propofol (Diprivan) Sedative, a hypnotic is introduced into clinical use in the United States after showing success in Europe for many years.
1992: Desflurane is introduced and used clinically.
For more information read our series from 2012 by Dr. Darin O'Bryan: “How to Give a Painless Injection”.