Helping Clients with Dental Phobias
There are many elements within dentistry that may be the trigger for a phobic response which may lead to the avoidance of specific dental procedures or visiting the dentist at all. These include but are not limited to:
- General Fear of the Dentist
- Needle Phobias (Aichmophobia)
- Blood Phobias (Haemophobia)
- Fear of Dental Equipment (Example: drills)
- Fear of being helpless (Agoraphobia)
No element of dentistry is phobia-inducing, in fact, we are born with only two natural fears: loud noises and fallings.
Fears/phobias are quite simply associations between a trigger and the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (fight, flight, freeze response). They are a learned response and develop for a variety of reasons.
Modelling/Imitation– Children learn by modelling those that are closest to them. For example, a fear of spiders may develop if a child witnesses a parent with this fear becoming anxious around spiders. The child copies the parent’s behaviour and becomes afraid of spiders.
Direct Experience – A negative experience that a patient connects to a trigger, usually a traumatic experience. For example, a past painful dental procedure can lead to the patient developing a dental phobia. A negative experience will always take centre stage no matter how many positive experiences have come before it.
Transference – A negative association with the dentist doesn’t need to come from going to the dentist. For example, a patient who has developed
As any phobia is a learned response, anyone with a phobia can unlearn this response and replace it with a calmness instead. In order to tackle this learned response, there are two options. Either reprocess a traumatic event and break the pattern that has been created or a process of systematic desensitisation (which is a process of slowly allowing the client’s brain to respond and calm to a number of fear-inducing situations in relation to their fear). For those that have no memory of the event that caused the phobia, systematic desensitisation is the chosen method.
Logically, patients know that there is nothing to fear when visiting the dentist. However, the parts of the brain that become engaged when experiencing a phobic response (hypothalamus, amygdala) do not respond to logic, they respond to emotion. Hypnosis becomes an incredibly useful therapy here.
Case study: Fear-inducing responses can be caused by a number of triggers and may not be related to dentistry. A patient presented with a strong phobic response when a dental drill was turned on. The dental drill itself was not the cause of the phobia. The original response was due to a traumatic experience whereby the patient had been stung by a wasp. The sound of the dental drill was similar enough to the buzzing of a wasp to trigger the phobic response.
Dealing with the emotional part of the brain is key in helping patients learn a new response that they associate with their trigger. Processes used to work with this part of the brain include stimulating the imagination for positive mental rehearsal, or to work through a range of
In hypnosis, this experience can be reduced to a calming practice whereby the power of suggestion and visualisation can retrain the brain without having to face the phobia-inducing implement in the flesh. After hypnosis, the client will have a significantly reduced anxiety response or even no response at all when faced with their previous fear.
Hypnotherapy is a relaxation-based therapy whereby the patient is taken through several inductions and deepeners in order to relax both the body and the mind. The patient is then taken through several scenarios, ranking in order from non-anxiety inducing to the worst
The installation of a safe place that the client can utilise as a trigger for calm is established. This is then coupled with suggestions and visualisations to allow for the fear/phobia to be overcome quickly and as pleasantly as possible. The designated trigger can be either something that the client triggers or associated to the actual dental practice.
Clients will also be taught techniques to train their nervous system to be calm by the installation of a trigger that they can use anytime they feel anxious, whether at the dentist or elsewhere.
If you have a patient that is struggling or may benefit from dental phobia hypnotherapy, or wish to discuss how hypnosis can be integrated into your practice then contact Ed on 07921 220557, email at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill in our contact form.