Horace Wells and William Morton

Horace Wells (1815-1848) was a compassionate dentist of deep religious convictions.  In the aftermath of an especially agonizing dental operation, he would sometimes stop work for several weeks, too traumatized by the need to inflict such terrible pain on his patients to continue.  Fortunately, he persevered.

8-18Dentist in History-Horace Wells

On 10th December 1844, Wells recognized that nitrous oxide might prove a godsend to surgical medicine.  Wells decided that the first guinea pig should be himself.  So, he had an erupting wisdom tooth extracted using the higher dosages of nitrous oxide needed to induce insensibility.  The extraction was a success, and he performed over a dozen extractions using nitrous oxide within a month. His student and partner, William Morton, encouraged him to demonstrate his finding.  The demonstration at Massachusetts General Hospital failed because the gas bag was withdrawn too soon, and the patient was only partially anesthetized.  He continued his attempts to promote nitrous oxide anesthesia, even travelling to Europe, where there was wider acceptance.

 

8-18Dentist in History-William Morton

Meanwhile, William Morton experimented with ether, and administered the first successful general anesthetic to a patient for the removal of a neck tumor.  The demonstration was performed at the same location where Wells was disgraced, which is now a historical monument called The Ether Dome.

Both Wells and Morton died despondent and bankrupt.  Every dentist should read their very important biographies as their contributions are medical, surgical and ethical milestones.

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