In September 30, 1846 William Morton used ether to assist extracting a tooth from a patient in his dental office. Two weeks later he repeated the technique in front of an audience of his peers at Massachusetts General Hospital. The success of the ether demonstration ushered in a new era in surgical anesthesia.

Over forty years later, the use of ether and nitrous oxide were prevalent in surgical operations but still poorly adopted by many for dental procedures. The 1889-1890 Catalogue for the newly created College of Dentistry listed instruction in the administration of ether and nitrous oxide as a part of the curriculum. According to Mellor Holland’s A History of the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry: 1888-1988, cocaine was the primary local anesthetic available at the time. The clinical instruction and opportunity to administer the gases to patients at the infirmary offered dental students an opportunity to learn practical skills that exceeded common practice.