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A Brief History of Local Anesthesia and Controlling Dental Pain

Historical Dental Practice

Controlling dental pain during treatment is an absolute must – no dentist can go without their anesthetics. Today’s anesthetics have advanced over the last few centuries, providing instant pain relief before and during treatment. However, there’s also a fascinating history behind how these anesthetics came to be, and over the last thousand years, anesthesia has greatly evolved into what we know today in healthcare. In this article, we’re going to look into the history behind local anesthesia and preview a few long-gone and now-used methods for pain relief.

Examples of Local Anesthesia in History

We understand as anesthesia goes back to medieval times, where we had laughing gas, we had narcotics to relieve dental pain. Although we don’t recommend those today, narcotics such as opium, alcohol, and henbane were used for toothaches and tooth infections because their understanding of medicine was based on the Greek concepts of the body and mind in relation to the spirit. While today’s anesthesia methods are safer for the general public, these approaches were widely used and caused addictive, life-threatening side effects. 

However, it wasn’t until the early 1700s to mid-1800s that we started to recognize some of the anesthesia options we know today, alongside some others that have been disregarded due to their failures. Below, we’ll describe some of these methods that were used by dentists to relieve pain: 

  • Nitrous Oxide: Also called laughing gas, it’s a colorless gas with a faintly sweet odor. Originally studied by both William T.G, Morton, and Horace Wells, nitrous oxide was studied and was demonstrated with the potential to be an extensive pain reliever for toothaches. However, the results of those studies showed that it has weak pain-relieving properties but is still used today in varying degrees with other local and general anesthesia methods. 
  • Ether: Ether is a colorless solvent that can be easily combined with resins, gums, and waxes. Previously used as a sedative by William Morton, it showed harmfulness when inhaled and has the potential to cause inebriation, respiratory paralysis, and unconsciousness, and so isn’t used in today’s dental treatments.
  • Cocaine: Narcotics have been around for a long time, and previously, Carl Koller argued for cocaine as valuable local anesthesia for tooth pain. However, due to its addictiveness and predisposed health risks, cocaine isn’t used as a pain reliever in dental practices. 

Despite the struggles to find local anesthesia, there are more modern techniques that are used in today’s practices, such as the single tooth anesthesia system, Traverse, OraFix, and Novacaine. Many researchers continue to observe the effects of upcoming anesthesia products, and because of this study, many researchers have been working towards more effective means for treating dental pain before and beyond the procedure. Because of today’s advancements, root canal therapies and tooth extractions can be easily performed pain-free without the risk of anesthesia-related consequences. For more information about local anesthesia options, contact your local dentist today to learn more. 

DR. Reynaldo Barbon State of the art equipment combines with doctors and staff dedicated to providing an uplifting dental experience to create the reputation Superb Dental Care has in our community. With a focus on family our clinic provides a full range of dental care services, from preventative care to restoration and cosmetic dentistry solutions.
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