1846 Anesthetic ether used for 1st time by American dentist Dr William Morton who extracts a tooth

September 30, 2021

1846 Anesthetic ether used for 1st time by American dentist Dr William Morton who extracts a tooth

In 1846, the first clinical case involving the use of ether for dental anesthesia occurred. Dentist William Morton was the surgeon in charge of the procedure which happened in Boston.

On March 30, 1842, Dr. Crawford Long used ether when removing a tumor from a patient’s neck. The patient’s name was James Venable. Although this was the first time Dr. Crawford used ether as anesthesia, he must have learned it at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School.

Experimenting with laughing gas as an anesthetic

William Morton did not have the luxury of receiving formal dental education. He was only a pre-med student exploring dentistry in Boston. Sometime in 1845, he worked with Horace Wells, his mentor and partner, to discover the use of laughing gas nitrous oxide as an anesthetic. However, various factors like insufficient gas caused the failure of the demonstration.

Although the first demonstration had been a failure, Morton went on to try a different gas, ether. At this time, wells had transferred from Boston. Morton’s new partner was his pre-med tutor, Charles Jackson.

Initially, Morton would conduct experiments on animals. Occasionally, he would use the gas on himself at home. Later on, he used ether as an anesthetic for the first time during a tooth extraction procedure on a patient. The patient was Eben Frost, and the appointment was in Morton’s dental office in Boston.

After the first dental procedure, Morton kept on using ether for dental surgery. It was not long before ether gained popularity as an anesthetic.


  1. Jerald Watts

    I’m tired of hearing about Morton… The first “Ether” the “laughing gas” was used (medically) for a surgical procedure was in Jefferson, Georgia (1842) as noted on removal of a tumor on a Mr. Venable’s neck… This was the FIRST… He did not report it till later, but he used it clinically before Morton and that is the FACT… Whether he learned it at Penn or what, doesn’t enter into the conversation. it was often used at ” gas parties” as the “laughing gas” and Dr. Crawford noted that one of the users had an injury and did not seem to feel the pain… J.L. Watts, M.D. (Georgia resident and Emory Graduate and lived only a few miles from Dr. Long’s office that still stands in Jefferson, Georgia…)

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