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When the toothache lost its horror for the first time

The great English historian Edward Gibbon confessed that he would have liked to have lived in the Golden Age of Rome.

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When the toothache lost its horror for the first time

The great English historian Edward Gibbon confessed that he would have liked to have lived in the Golden Age of Rome. When asked whether he would follow suit, Sebastian Haffner once replied: It was a nice thought to have been proconsul of Asia at the time. "But when I think about my dentist appointment tomorrow morning, I would rather live here and now."

Toothache is one of the greatest scourges of mankind. Their causes may not be deadly. In return, they can drive their victims into a frenzy for years. It is quite possible that behind many an assassination order in historical times was the anger of tormented rulers who were trying to vent themselves. Because the therapeutic attempts of their doctors were hardly associated with less pain.

That ended at 10 a.m. on October 16, 1846. The American dentist William T. G. Morton (1819-1868) had a patient inhale vapors from a glass sphere containing a sponge soaked with sulfuric ether in front of the assembled luminaries and students of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. After the patient fell asleep, Morton signaled the head of the house, John Collins Warren, "The patient is now ready."

It took the lead surgeon just five minutes to remove a "congenital, superficial, and vascularized tumor below the lower jaw on the left side of the neck" in 20-year-old printer Edward Gilbert Abbott. Then Warren addressed the amazed audience with the famous words: "Gentlemen, this is no humbug." Medicine had triumphed over pain. The news went around the world. As early as the end of January 1847, a wisdom tooth was extracted painlessly at the Jakobsspital in Leipzig.

Morton, the son of a Massachusetts farmer, had studied dentistry at Baltimore and Harvard and opened a practice in 1842 with his teacher Horace Wells. Decades earlier, resourceful doctors had recognized the pain-relieving effects of nitrous oxide and sulfuric ether, but they hadn't gotten through it. Laughing gas, on the other hand, was mainly used for amusement at student parties and at fairs, where spectators were able to see interesting changes in their personality.

Wells attended one such presentation in December 1844. He immediately decided to try it on himself. The next day, after inhaling a dose of nitrous oxide, he had a dentist friend pull a wisdom tooth out of his upper jaw. "It took a lot of strength to pull it," the colleague stated. "Nevertheless, Dr. Wells shows no sign of pain. ... When the effects of the gas wore off, he threw up his arms and exclaimed, 'This is the beginning of a new era in tooth extraction!'"

However, the presentation that Morton arranged for Wells in Boston turned out to be a disaster. The patient who volunteered was overweight and experienced alcohol, the dose of gas was too low. The cries of pain ruined Wells' career forever; after attacking two women with sulfuric acid, he was imprisoned, where he committed suicide.

Now it was Morton's turn to fight the pain. Instead of nitrous oxide, however, he relied on sulfur ether. The well-known scholar Charles Thomas Jackson had lectured on its narcotic effects when Morton was a student at Harvard Medical School. In order not to experience a catastrophe like Wells', Morton conducted intensive series experiments involving dogs, goldfish, chickens, mice and finally himself. Ether proved to be much more effective than brandy or opium tinctures.

For practical use, Morton built an apparatus consisting of a glass bulb and two openings. The patient inhaled the mixture of ambient air and ether through this glass bulb, but exhaled through a valve directly into the surrounding air, as the anesthesiologists Ludwig Brandt and Karl-Heinz Krauskopf described as "the first semi-open anesthetic system".

At the end of September 1846, when a well-known musician urged him to relieve his toothache, Morton used ether for the first time in his practice. The success prompted him to approach Warren for the possibility of a presentation. As described above, it was a complete success.

However, when Morton admitted, after some hesitation, that his miracle drug was sulfuric ether, Jackson claimed his birthright to the invention. The trials were to drag on for decades, although the Paris Academy of Sciences had proposed a Solomonic solution in good time: Jackson was awarded the right to discover sulfuric ether, Morton for its use for narcotic purposes.

However, Morton did not become rich with it. He died impoverished in 1868 as a result of a stroke in New York.

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