So many people I know really don’t like going to the dentist and they put it off. However, sometimes they get pain and then have to go. That was the case for this young man. He’d put it off and put it off and then had to see a dentist as an emergency. They had wanted to do the filling there and then but he was just too scared. He’d got an appointment booked in for a week’s time and an appointment with me just before.
Most often, dental fears and phobias stem from a direct negative experience, usually involving pain and fear and often experienced during childhood. Sometimes this is a response learnt from parents and carers who are also fearful and anxious, and so the cycle continues. Children are great imitators, it’s how they learn, but sometimes the behaviours they imitate and learn isn’t the most appropriate for them. This was very much so in the case of the young man sitting opposite me. He explained that his mum was terrified of the dentist and even as a small child remembers his mum being extremely frightened when taking him for his early check-ups. Once, she had gasped very loudly when the dentist was looking in his mouth and because he had jumped violently, the instrument the dentist was holding had hit his gums, which hurt and had made them sore and bleed. He remembers being very frightened at the amount of blood. Looking back now he could acknowledge that in reality, it probably wasn’t very much blood at all but as a child it had seemed a lot and had been very scary. The dentist had also got cross which hadn’t helped the situation.
This young man’s mind was thinking it was keeping him safe, which is the mind’s only objective, by making him feel these negative emotions. It was doing its level best to keep him from ever seeing a dentist again. Ah ha, it thinks. Ratchet up the anxiety, the person will avoid the situation and then never has to experience feeling frightened or being hurt again. Good result, it thinks. However, teeth have a habit, especially as we get older, of needing attention and care and so we are forced to see a dentist again. When we attend an appointment, we feel anxious, which reinforces our fears and patterns of thinking and behaviour each time.
The first thing was to reprocess the original event and the accompanying fears and emotions. By helping him to ‘unlearn’ a conditioned response he was able to be free from the hold it had over him. That old programme of fear was no longer relevant or necessary. He told me that he wanted to feel calm and relaxed and as though visiting the dentist was just an ordinary, every-day type of experience. During hypnosis, we used powerful memory and visualisation techniques, so his mind already knew what to do when he was in the dentist’s chair. It was just like a dress rehearsal for how he wanted to be and feel.
I heard from him after his appointment. He thought he had needed one filling. It turns out he actually had three but reported back that he had felt calm and relaxed throughout, in fact almost slightly indifferent. A much better response than before!