Feb 19, 2019
Helping your anxious patients enjoy their next dental appointment
I recently came across a case study about a patient who sought treatment for her phobias - a fear of flying and a fear of going to the dentist. As she was due to fly 2 weeks after her therapy session, she prioritised her fear of flying. The possibility of having to cancel her planned trip had created a desperation that finally outweighed her fear of seeking treatment! After four sessions of hypnotherapy she was able to make her airplane trip, feeling calm throughout most of the flight. She went on to make a number of subsequent trips and found that she was able to remain calm even during turbulence. But despite this incredible turnaround, she chose not to accept the therapists invitation to come back and work on her dental phobia. She left it until 9 years later before she returned to address that fear - by which time she no longer had a choice. She now required either two sets of dentures, or implants. After only two sessions of hypnotherapy, using very similar techniques to those that had cured her fear of flying, the patient was able to undergo multiple root canal procedures and have 12 teeth pulled (opting for partial dentures instead of implants).
To me this case study highlights one of the challenges for the successful application of hypnotherapy in assisting patients who dread visiting their dentist. Here is a woman who has personally experienced a life changing transformation - saving her troubled relationship with her husband which had suffered badly due to her inability to travel. And yet faced with the invitation to use the same proven hypnotherapy principles to cure her phobia of dentistry, she instead chose to avoid the fear for a further 9 years until she was physically unable to ignore the agony any longer.
In November last year the Faculty of Dentistry UiTM (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia) took a bold and decisive step to incorporate hypnosis as part of the dental services they offer. They launched Malaysia’s first Hypnodontic (Hypnotherapy for dentistry) Clinic on campus and are now the country’s only dental facility incorporating hypnosis as part of the services they offer the public. This development has been championed ‘top down’ after the faculty recognised the role hypnosis could play in dentistry and sent 4 academic staff to attend a Certificate Course in the Clinical Use of Hypnosis in 2014. Levels of enthusiasm and support have grown from there and the faculty continues to work closely with the London College of Clinical Hypnosis (LCCH) Asia to offer hypnosis as part of the postgraduate syllabus for Paediatric Dentistry.
Perhaps you are wondering just how hypnotherapy could help a dental patient, or what’s required? The American Society of Clinical Hypnosis (2012) describes hypnosis as “a state of inner absorption, concentration, and focused attention characterised by relaxation and some degree of suggestibility”. This is a natural state of relaxation which 90% of people experience every day - think driving the car on autopilot or daydreaming about your favourite holiday on crowded public transport. With the help of a hypnotist, a patient is able to utilise their suggestibility to alter their perception, cognition, mood or behaviour. For patients who fear the dentist, being taken into a deep state of relaxation effectively stops their ability to panic or become anxious. It’s not possible to be anxious at the same time as being deeply relaxed - it’s like trying to tense a muscle whilst keeping it relaxed - they are opposite. For extremely phobic patients this relaxation may need to be practiced in advance with a few appointments away from the dental surgery prior to attending an appointment.
Behaviour management suggestions can also be used to assist patients with habit-breaking, to reinforce good oral hygiene practices or to reduce or eliminate bruxism.
If you’d like to find out how to incorporate hypnotherapy to help your patients you can either contact LCCH Asia to find out about their Medical Certificate in Clinical Hypnotherapy, or visit my website www.innerfire.sg - I hold a Diploma in Clinical Hypnotherapy and have successfully assisted patients in habit breaking, such as eliminating nail biting, smoking and drinking, and in dealing with bruxism.
The Clinical Use of Hypnosis in Cognitive Behavior Therapy - A Practitioner’s Casebook, Robin A. Chapman, PsyD, ABPP, Editor
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