The Not So Funny Beginning of Laughing Gas

The story of how laughing gas began doesn’t make you giggle. This popular form of sedation dentistry, nitrous oxide, used by dentists to calm patients’ dental anxieties has a dramatic history. In 1799, Humphry Davy, a 21-year-old scientist was testing a variety of gases on himself to see if he could find the cure for tuberculosis. He would inhale the gases and then write down how they affected him.

He never found the cure to tuberculosis, but he did notice how after he inhaled nitrous oxide the pain from his persistent toothache had disappeared, and he felt only laughter and delight. The drug soon became a popular amusement at social gatherings. But he tried to convince others that it could be used not just for fun, but also in surgery to ease pain. The idea didn’t catch on at first. Back then, if you felt pain that meant you were healthy and your body was working hard to heal itself. No one saw the point of trying to ease the ear-piercing screams during surgery since they were a good sign of a strong body.

Pain Is Not Funny

But 40 years later, it became apparent that pain felt during medical procedures wasn’t a good thing. In search of a way to make dental visits more enjoyable, an American dentist named Horace Wells saw laughing gas as a pain solution.He felt inspired to test it out after being a volunteer for a nitrous oxide show at a carnival. Later, he had his assistant give him laughing gas during a tooth extraction and found that he felt only blissful peace during it.

He tried it out on other patients with similar results. Eventually he set up a public show where he could demonstrate a pain-free tooth extraction. But during the tooth extraction the patient cried out because the laughing gas wasn’t administered correctly. The audience instead laughed at Wells, thinking he was just a fake. He left humiliated, and he eventually committed suicide.

William Morton was an apprentice of Wells, and after Wells’ failed attempt, he decided to keep experimenting with laughing gas. Morton began to use it regularly in his dental office and rumors spread about his relaxing dentist visits. The press got hold of it, and eventually Morton tried a demonstration like Wells had done. But his time it was successful, and he had the last laugh.