"I did not feel so much as the prick of a pin"

Tintype of a Daguerreotype of Horace Wells.

Tintype of a daguerreotype of Horace Wells, circa 1848
Gift of Truman Howe Bartlett to the Boston Medical Library

On December 10, 1844, Hartford dentist Horace Wells (1815-1848) attended a lecture of G. Q. Colton who demonstrated the exhilarating effects of inhalation of nitrous oxide, or laughing gas.  On December 11, at a private session, one of the participants who had inhaled the gas fell but was unconscious of any injury or pain.  Wells, who was troubled with a decayed molar, then conceived the idea that a tooth might be extracted without pain if the patient was under the influence of nitrous oxide.  Colton administered the gas to Wells, and John M. Riggs performed the extraction.  According to Colton’s later account, “Wells clapped his hands and exclaimed, ‘It is the greatest discovery ever made.  I did not feel so much as the prick of a pin.”  Horace Wells then proceeded to extract teeth from some fifteen patients over the following days.

"I did not feel so much as the prick of a pin"