Hypnosis is a natural and enjoyable state of consciousness we all experience many times a day. From sitting idly at a desk and daydreaming to the mental focus required to study in a noisy environment, these are variations of the state that is known as hypnosis. In particular, that twilight time when we are either just drifting into or awakening from sleep, when we can process vivid images or even contemplate re-entering a dream to continue it, is a state of hypnosis.
Having worked as a dental hygienist for over 20 years, the fact that hypnotherapy has a proven 80% to 90% permanent success rate over other methods for quitting smoking tobacco motivated me to study how hypnosis would work for my dental patients.
Now as a qualified clinical hypnotherapist and analytical psychotherapist, having studied hypnotherapy and understood its potential, I see a bigger picture for the use of clinical hypnosis to treat a broad spectrum of anxiety-related conditions both outside of and within dentistry.
In relation to the specific anxiety states associated with dentistry, it is interesting to note the statistics of Scott and Hirschman that state that 8% to 15% of the population is dental phobic. I think we can go further and acknowledge that many of the other 85% to 90% of our patients, although not phobic, do exhibit some form of fear or anxiety before and during treatment.
I believe that hypnodontics (all aspects of hypnosis relating to dentistry) in the case of the unreasonably anxious dental patient and under certain other circumstances is one answer to smooth, successful dental treatment. By attending for hypnodontics two or three weeks prior to treatment, the patient’s fear and mistrust of the dental work can be allayed.
Everyday hypnotic hints
Without having to induce formal hypnosis, however, you too can use the basic elements of hypnosis during your work to help reduce your patients’ level of anxiety.
In the practice of clinical hypnosis the principal elements at our disposal to induce and deepen these states of awareness are breathing, imagination helped along with descriptive language or imagery, and positive suggestion.
Give your patients the following positive suggestions as you work in a calm and confident manner, and you will find that your patient will, with practice, be better able to control his or her apprehension during dental work; note that positive suggestions should be given in the present tense.
Dental relaxation script
‘The first and most important skill that you have to help me make your dental treatment a calm and relaxed experience is to be able to control your breathing and to be able to use it consciously, for your own benefit, to bring about feelings of calmness and relaxation whenever and wherever you need to be calm and relaxed.
‘The most natural way to breathe is both in and out through your nose. If that is not comfortable for you, however, you can breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
‘As you breath in you allow your stomach to expand outwards, thereby allowing your lungs to fill completely. Laying your hand on your stomach as you do so can be helpful for concentration.
‘As soon as your lungs are full you immediately, without pause, breathe out, contracting or pulling your stomach in to help empty out all the air from your lungs. A short pause here, and only when you feel the need to start breathing again do you do so. So the pause is on the out breath only.
‘Start now by exaggerating this technique and then, when you have the rhythm, I want you to breathe in and out, slowly, smoothly, silently and effortlessly.
‘Being able to utilise your breathing in any circumstance when necessary is a tremendous skill to have. Practice this skill whenever you can.
‘Now, as you continue to breathe I want you to practise some more mind power skills. This one is called association/disassociation. When you are associated in a memory you are using your imagination to be back there, just as if you are back in the moment of the event.
‘You are looking out through you own eyes, hearing with your ears, and feeling the feelings from your chest or stomach all over again, just as you did then.
‘When you are dissociated in a memory you are out of your body, looking back or perhaps down from the ceiling, as you float up in your imagination and look back down at yourself, during the event. This allows you to re-experience the event but from a distance without the emotion or anxiety.
‘This skill of the imagination can now be utilised to dissociate from what I am doing, and you can just allow your imagination to take you away to a better place in your imagination where you feel most happy, calm and relaxed. This place might be a real place, for example a room in your home, or it might be a memory of a time like walking through a leafy wood or lying on a sunny beach, or it might be the details of a particularly special, happy event in your life.
‘When you have located that place in your mind I want you to associate into that place in your imagination, see it, hear it, feel it, be there again now, looking out through you own eyes.
‘Enjoy now those lovely feelings of calm relaxation once again in your chosen place while I stay here and continue my work.
‘And as we finish up for today I want you now to anchor that chosen place in your mind with a physical symbol, e.g. putting your thumb and first finger together or touching the inside of your wrist, whatever symbol of your chosen place is comfortable for you.
‘Go ahead now anchor these feelings of well-being to your skin and by doing so they will again be there for you the next time, whenever and wherever you need to access those good, calm, happy and relaxed feelings.’
Helping the patient
So as you can now see, without the need for formal hypnosis, and using the above script as an example, you too can learn to use positive language and guided imagery to help your patients. By using these key elements of hypnosis in an informal way during dental treatment, you can teach your patient how to use his or her imagination in a positive way, rather than the more common negative way that is tied to anxiety, to bring about feelings of calm, relaxation, confidence and well-being during the course of treatment. Good, positive news all round, I imagine!