Updated: 2/5/2020 Practitioners of sleep dentistry or sleep sedation clinics are making their marks in the dental healthcare landscape. Today, more and more anxious patients are relieved to learn that…

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History of Sleep Dentistry

Updated: 2/5/2020

Practitioners of sleep dentistry or sleep sedation clinics are making their marks in the dental healthcare landscape. Today, more and more anxious patients are relieved to learn that there is hope for them to have dental treatments without the traumatic scarring.

Beginnings of Anaesthesia Use

Dentists have used anaesthesia since the mid-19th century to eliminate physical pain and mental anxiety when performing a wide variety of dental procedures. The concept of sedation dentistry then was neither a 20th century nor a 21st century invention, although it must be emphasised that the sedatives and their forms of administration are more effective than their early predecessors. Nowadays, the use of sedatives in dentistry is as common as, say, the use of antibiotics to kill bacteria.

But the use of sedatives in dentistry did not exactly have great beginnings in terms of acceptance. In 1844, Horace Wells volunteered to have nitrous oxide (laughing gas) administered to him by Gardner Quincy Colton; he felt nothing after the administration. Later that year, Wells became the first patient to be anaesthetised and operated on when his associate, John Riggs, extracted his tooth–and thus began sedation dentistry in its modern form.

Soon after, Wells began using nitrous oxide on his patient but refused to have it patented. He believed that pain relief should be provided free for everybody—free as the air, so he said.

Wells was not initially credited as the discoverer of modern anaesthesia because his first public demonstration went awry. In 1845, he conducted a demonstration of nitrous oxide to students at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, but the patient cried out in pain after the gas was wrongly administered. He was disgraced and, as a consequence, gave up dentistry to become a traveling salesman in the next two years.

In 1846, William T.G. Morton successfully administered ether as an anaesthetic to a patient in an amphitheatre at Harvard University. He was successful in that the painless surgery was completed; afterward, he declared, “Gentlemen, this is no humbug,” in reference to the experience of Wells who was booed by the crowd with cries of “humbug.”

It must be noted that although Morton vigorously campaigned to be recognised as the father of modern anaesthesia—and, thus, the founder of sedation dentistry—he was unsuccessful. Wells was posthumously recognised as the discoverer of anaesthesia in 1846 by the American Dental Association—an honour that stands to this day.

Nowadays, the practice of sedation dentistry has more advanced tools, techniques and technologies than those used during the 19th century. Practitioners now offer several sedatives, methods of administration and types of dental procedures for their patients—choices that were not available during Wells’ and Morton’s time.

Education and Regulation in Sleep Dentistry

In the United States, dentists are prohibited from using dental sedation techniques on their patients unless they have the necessary education, training and experience. Sleep dentistry requires specialised knowledge and skills that must be learned via continuing education programs, including postgraduate studies on the subject. Otherwise, the patient can be put at undue risk from the complications of improperly administered dental sedatives.

Why is sedation dentistry increasing in popularity? Think of these benefits: Ease of administration by a pill, inhalation or injection; effectiveness in pain suppression and relief; and amnesic effect in that little to no memory of the procedure remains; as well as faster performance of the procedure on the part of the dentist. In the following years, its popularity will increase as more and more safety measures are adopted so that many of the at-risk dental patients can also enjoy the benefits of sedation dentistry.


Guest Writer

Dr. Ved Berani is the founder of Healthy Smiles, a cosmetic dental clinic in Melbourne that delivers high quality sedation dentistry in a relaxed and pleasant environment. He is a second generation dentist, shows great pride in his work and introduced the philosophy, “Healthy mouths… Beautiful smiles.”

Natasha is 1Dental’s managing editor and copywriter, focusing content on dental and health news, advice and tips straight from the experts. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication and has since been a book editor and now copywriter and managing editor on dental and health. You can find her on Twitter and all of 1Dental’s social networks.

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