Facing dental fear with guided relaxation and imagery

mystical-forest

Jonathan, a pleasant man in his forties, was trying his best to smile when I walked into the room. After 23 years in the dental field, I know that patients don’t usually smile because they are happy to see me. I knew Johnathan couldn’t tolerate the feeling of cotton in his mouth or take an X-ray because of his severe gag reflex.

I smiled back at Jonathan and softly asked him what was bothering him. Jonathan grinned this time to show me his broken tooth that left a dark shadow near the corner of his lips each time he smiled.

‘I am afraid I am going to lose it because I can’t afford sedation”.

Jonathan explained that he had a terrible dental experience as a child after being forced to open, and since then, the thought of the dentist made him gag. I paused for a while and then asked Johnathan if he was interested in trying a new approach. I explained to him that our brain is like a mystical forest and that his thoughts are trapped in the unhappy side of the forest.

“We can move from that zone to the happy part, but you will need to let me guide you there as you can’t find it on your own. I will guide you through with simple words. You will have full control all the time” I said.

Jonathan was hesitant at first but interested in giving it a go.

We started with regulating his breathing and posture. After progressive relaxation and guided imagery over two appointments, I was able to do the exam, take x-rays, do cleaning and was able to work on his tooth.

The story has a happy ending with a new cap and a beautiful new smile. Jonathan sat there looking at his tooth in the mirror with a happy, quiet and tearful face that said it all. The fact is that almost all of us feel jittery when going to the dentist no matter how well we hide it.

Sedation is expensive and not for everyone. Rather than only offering sedation, it is possible to deliver safe and comfortable treatment by simply guiding our patients into comfort with words as an alternative option. After being shunned for centuries, the trend of clinical hypnosis and guided imagery is becoming more common and acceptable with other medical procedures.

As we discover the benefits of meditation, guided imagination and breathing for our health, we should also be open to offering them routinely to our patients. These simple techniques may not only make dental visits more comfortable but also heal the fear and shame that comes with neglected dental health.