For the past eight or so years, I have been working in dental practices across the UK using hypnosis as an adjunct for chemical anaesthesia or instead of anaesthetic. Using hypnosis in this way enables patients to receive treatment free from fear, lessens or stops the gag reflex, reduces bruxism and helps with long-term treatment plans.
But the more I help patients, the more I realise how their fears and behaviour impact the dentist, nurse and the entire team. A tense patient resisting or rejecting treatment can pass their stress onto the dental staff whose jobs are made more difficult and more time-consuming.
Dentists invest thousands of pounds in the latest equipment and a welcoming reception area to create a practice with a calm atmosphere. While this can help the patient, it is unlikely to help as much you might think. Strategic lighting, soothing colour tones and a friendly nature will not neutralise the imbedded fright or the fight once they get into the chair.
So, you’ve spent a lot setting up an efficient and professional practice but how much do you put into making the necessary change to resolve one of the hardest parts of dentistry: the patient?
The most valuable assets for any dental practice are for the team to understand what is going on inside the patient’s mind, what makes the visit an ordeal for them and how to overcome it.
According to the British Dental Association (BDA), around 12% of patients suffer from extreme anxiety and 25% from some sort of anxiety. Dental phobia (also called odontophobia, dentophobia, dentist phobia, dental anxiety or dental fear), with its many forms of reaction, is common – and usually manifests well before a patient has even entered the practice.
In some cases, the nervous fear is built up weeks, months and sometimes years before arriving at your peaceful practice.
Fortunately, hypnosis is a multi-faceted tool that is increasing in public perception. It has been widely used for smoking cessation, weight-loss and for obscure conditions that have been successfully conquered. Increased public exposure has made hypnosis a mainstream method of treatment for a range of anxieties and addictions.
However, once a patient chooses hypnotherapy to confront their fears and actually does something about de-stressing their visits, they encounter the problem of finding a dentist that can carry out the treatment.
I have been to a number of untrained hypno-dentists and had much of my work undone in a matter of minutes by well meaning dentists not understanding the process.
The challenge is to convince the dentist that this is an opportunity, not only for the patient’s ease but also for the dental business.
I still get the usual comments: ‘Does it actually work?’, ‘Isn’t it a bit way out?’, ‘What will my colleagues say?’ and ‘It would take too long’. But, thankfully, there is an aspect of curiosity and willingness from conscientious dentists who can see that using hypnosis in a creative and beneficial way can attract new patients as well as helping existing ones feel more accepting of the service and become regular rather than challenging patients.
Glitz and glamour
High-profile figures and celebrities are increasingly using hypnosis and their example could open up new revenue streams for dentists.
Imagine the raised awareness and demand had Lindsay Lohan chosen hypnosis rather than drugs for her recent, highly publicised dental treatment. Not every patient will have such a cocktail of emotional issues as this Hollywood wild child, but the more hypnosis and dentistry are seen together, the more people will come to view it as potentially a standard treatment and not an optional extra.
Imagine the income generated for your business if you were to provide hypnosis as part of the treatment plan. The dentists that I have had the pleasure of training and/or working with are using hypnosis as a daily part of their routine. They bring it into their practice as an uncomplicated tool; it is part of their skill set for life and it brings in patients.
Word of mouth recommendations spread not because of the interior design or the high-tech equipment used, which patients have little or no understanding of, but because the dentist treating them is more than just a sympathetic ear – they understand how to help them overcome the fear and anxiety or gag reflex or problems with anaesthetic. The dentist has the potential to help them have ongoing treatment free from suffering in their minds.
What is hypnosis?
Hypnosis is a state of mind in which suggestions are not only more readily accepted than in the waking state, but are also acted upon much more powerfully than would be possible under normal conditions.
Hypnotic states work through profound deep relaxation and limitation of voluntary muscles. The trance state may take a few moments or longer to achieve, depending on the subject. One of the most exciting things about the hypnotic state is the speed in which it can be produced.
In these states, fears and anxieties fade away by bypassing the critical factor that is fundamental to the workings of the hypnotic state. This is the shift from the nagging of the conscious mind and conscious thought to the relaxed subconscious creative mind – our imagination.
In most cases, patients have hypnotised themselves into dental phobias, using their imagination to fuel the fear of the future dental experience. Often we take on board ideas or suggestions that don’t serve us. The fear that visiting the dentist is always painful because that is how we experienced it in the past is just one example.
Practice makes perfect
Some dental practitioners have taken a theory course but, without much practice, have lost their skills quickly and don’t feel confident enough to implement it into general practice. They feel that it ‘didn’t work for me’ and can abandon it far too quickly. You may be one of them.
I am often in an auditorium teaching to dental professionals that have been on courses and have not followed it up.
Hypnosis in dentistry should be viewed in the same frame as the other disciplines learnt during training. Skills need practice and honing so you can get the maximum benefit from them. The same is true with hypnosis.
I have become aware that follow-up for dental professionals is imperative. Many of the dentists I have worked with send me videos, Facebook messages and a variety of ways in which I can see how they are developing their skills and I also do a few follow-up meetings throughout the year.
More complex patients, who have deeper psychological issues or phobia, may need prior treatment before they visit the dentist, so it is not advisable to deal with those issues, as it may become a therapy rather than dental session.
The best pathway here is to introduce a hypnotherapy consultation as an additional service to make subsequent treatment both possible and easier. Providing this service is also another way of enlightening patients to your concerns and understandings to help their treatment. I encourage teaching group work in hypnosis to patients or prospective patients, as this can be another lucrative opportunity. By introducing this as an additional service to your practice, it raises awareness of your skills and how using it would help them.
Not only is this a highly beneficial tool for your own stress levels, your staff and your patients, the potential value added to your business is not to be underestimated.
Sharon Waxkirsh BA(Hons) Cht Mht HBCE is an experienced hypnotherapist, specialising in assisting people in removing limit beliefs, resolving issues and disposing of counterproductive patterns. For more information, visit www.mindbeing.com