Historical context of the link between Anesthesiology and Dentistry:

DaVinci illustration of a human skull

History of Dentistry and General Anesthesia

St. Apollonia, the patron saint of dentistry, lived in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century, where Christians were being persecuted during the reign of Emperor Philip. In 249, Apollonia was arrested and the pagans tortured her, trying to force Apollonia to give up her faith.

First, Apollonia’s teeth were broken or avulsed and her facial bones were fractured. Apollonia was then told that if she did not deny her belief, she would be burned alive. Apollonia intentionally leapt into the flames as a voluntary martyr.

Catholics now invoke Apollonia’s name to aid with the insidious pain of toothaches. Sadly, for some patients, the fear dental treatment is only overcome when actual tooth or facial pain is unremittingly severe.

Before the optimization of dental anesthesia, surgical techniques, and the discovery of antibiotics in the 20th century, untreated dental disease often lead to serious morbidity, even death, from infections.

Pierre Fauchard 1678-1761, (left), is recognized as the Father of Dentistry. G.V. Black 1836-1915, (right) is known as the Father of American Dentistry.

16 October 1846 the first successful public demonstration of general anesthesia was given by a dentist, William Thomas Green Morton. Patient Edward Gilbert Abbot had a maxillofacial tumor removed at Massachusetts General Hospital in the “Ether Dome,” now designated a National Historic Site.

Horace Wells is recognized as the first individual to demonstrate surgical anestesiology. Practicing even earlier than Morton, dentist Horace Wells was recognized not only by the ADA and AMA as the first individual to utilize and promote general anesthesia (1844) but was deemed “due all honor for having discovered the use of gases whereby operations could be performed without pain” (Paris Medical Society, 1848) in the worldwide forum.

Carl Koller used the first anesthetic in dentistry, cocaine. General Anesthesia, the use of which was pioneered by dentists for use in dental procedures, is now supplemented or even replaced by local anesthesia in most dental offices. The first local anesthetic used in dentistry was cocaine, introduced in 1884 by Carl Koller.