Are you someone who is so scared of going to the dentist that you will absolutely avoid going, even to the detriment of your own dental hygiene?

If the answer is yes, the chances are you have a dental phobia. A phobia is more severe and intense than a fear which happens when the body senses danger and activates the fight or flight responses caused by a surge in adrenalin.

The fear or phobia may occur as a reaction to the dentist, the treatments or in more serious cases, anything dental related (such as toothpaste adverts). Fears and phobias usually occur because they have been learned from someone significant in our lives, or because there has been a significant negative usually directly related to a dentist experience.

If hypnosis has not already been explored, it could prove to be a useful skill in both managing the phobic response and alleviating any pain or discomfort. Unfortunately no one can really say how hypnosis works; however, research seems to suggest that it is based upon a disassociation model, as seen in patients with MPD.

Dissociation can eliminate pain by placing it in a sort of psychological storage area, away from the consciousness of the patient. There are many accounts in history of hypnosis being used in place of anaesthetics.

Hypnosis is also a deeply relaxing state. This can be beneficial during the dental treatment, to keep the patient calm and relaxed and to have them focus in their minds, on a more pleasant experience whilst the dental work takes place. Remaining calm has other benefits as well as helping the patient to feel better. For instance, there may be less bleeding (if the dental work lends itself to the possibility of this occurring) and healing may occur more readily.

Hypnosis can also be used as a way of making unconscious changes. The unconscious is the greater part of our minds which is responsible for maintaining habits and behaviours, and using will power alone is not usually the easiest way of creating changes to this part of the mind. However, during hypnosis, it has been found that habits and behaviours can be changed easily. This means that suggestions for feeling calm and at ease or generally reacting in a more positive way to the dental experience can be given. Therefore, hypnosis can be used prior to the dental work and during the dental work.

The benefits of overcoming a dental phobia expand beyond better dental care and hygiene. It is thought that around 20% of those in the western world who have dental fears and phobias, also suffer from fears and anxieties in other areas of their lives. When success has been achieved in one area, it is likely to have a positive impact on other areas of life where the patient once had challenges, and even of this does not occur, it will demonstrate that it is likely that the patient can achieve success using this method of therapeutic intervention. For those who are parents and suffering from a dental phobia, there is also an increased likelihood that your children will also develop some level of fear of going to the dentist, particularly if they have witnessed you becoming anxious about going to the dentist.

By Gemma Bailey