Comedians around the world know that to make a really good joke it has to rely on so-called universals. Some old favorites come to mind: food on airplanes, mothers-in-law, (lack of) domestic bliss. Another “war horse” of the comedian is the dentist. There are lots of reasons for that. Toothache, jaw pain, the high-pitch whine of the drill, the resonance of the drill through the jawbone. These bring with them a certain amount of anxiety and fear.
The fear of the physical side of dentistry is compounded by “thought viruses” (a term coined by Robert Dilts that means a belief that is based on someone else’s – not your own – experience). For example, if I’m a young child and my older brother had a bad experience before I ever went to the dentist in my life, it’s a pretty safe bet that his experience will figure prominently in my mind as preparations are made for my first trip. The familial, tribal and cultural mythologies around dentists and dentistry are largely thought viruses. They press heavily on our little minds long before we’ve had an actual experience, and they shape our mental expectancy.
In fact, because mental expectancy is a major component of hypnosis, it can easily be argued that the cultural mystique around dentists (as being sadists – as in the movie Little Shop of Horrors) is largely bad hypnosis. There’s a basic axiom in hypnosis that what the mind expects to happen tends to be realized. If we’re told from early on that we are going to suffer at the hands of a DDS, we’re going to find it challenging to let the experience be received in its objective fullness.
One of the things that first intrigued me about hypnosis was its applicability to manage pain. Back in the early- to mid-19th Century, doctors were doing amazing surgeries using only hypnosis for pain management. Dr. James Esdaile published a book in 1846 detailing hundreds of operations he’d performed in India (including amputations, tumor removal, abscess drainage, and other abdominal surgeries) all with hypnosis alone. These surgeries pre-date chemical anesthesia.
With the advent of chemical anesthesia, interest in research in hypnosis as an anesthetic dropped off considerably and it’s only been in recent times that it has come to life. Today there are a number of avenues for the application of hypnosis in the dental arena.
Pain control is an obvious area. Hypnosis can allow the dental patient incredible degrees of control. Hypnosis can numb the jaw, the side of the face or just a single tooth. There’s no need for xylocain or novocain. The patient can be instructed to go deeper and deeper into hypnosis as the procedure progresses. With this kind of suggestion, the longer the procedure, the more relaxed the patient. Truly, a win-win!
Hypnosis can also be used to quell and root out that thought virus mentioned above. By providing specific instructions, a good hypnotist can undo the effects of the “bad hypnosis” that even well-meaning mothers and siblings instill in children. And we can innoculate them from on-going “bad hypnosis” after the fact.
Imagine how good it will feel to step out of the dentist’s chair even more relaxed than when you sat down — and without the after-effects of chemical anesthesia. No more “droopy lip”. No more “cheek chewing”. No more swollen tongue.
I can foresee a time in the future when comedians will have to drop dentists as easy targets.