Who’s Afraid of the Dentist?

Scientific evidence shows hypnosis can calm your fears.

Photo by Dmytro Buianskyi, Getty Images

I’ve never met anyone who thought ‘going to the dentist’ was a fun thing to do. Most people, at the very least, feel apprehensive or a little anxious about it. For others, just the thought of going causes an extreme fear reaction. For them, the psychological and physiological effects of their fear make any dental work difficult, if not impossible.

Would Hypnosis Help?

Researchers Ulrike Halsbanda and Thomas Gerhard Wolfb, both from top universities in German (1), were curious to know if hypnosis could help alleviate this type of extreme fear.

The dentistry field has used hypnosis as an alternative or adjuvant for sedation or general anesthetics for generations. Its first documented use in 1829 was for tooth extraction. (2) But Ulrike and Wolfb wanted to dig deeper. (Pun intended.)

They wanted to know about fear. Specifically, how would a highly dental phobic person respond to hypnosis? What would happen in the brain? Would there be any functional changes? How would the brain’s fear processing centers be affected? 

And they wanted hard evidence to back all this up.

The Discovery Process

Their study included 12 people with dental phobia and 12 people with no dental fear, or as they called them, “healthy controls.” Both groups’ average age was 33-34 years old. 

Using an MRI whole-body scanner, they monitored each person’s brain activity while watching two animated videos. One video was scary, designed to maximize a fear response. The other video was non-scary and full of common household electronic equipment.

After the 24 participants finished watching the two videos, Ulrike and Wolfb uncovered the concrete evidence they were hoping for.

Research Findings

Yes, there were definite functional changes in the brain’s fear processing structures.

The dental phobic group’s fear response showed up in the left amygdala and bilaterally in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), insula and hippocampus (R<L). And the brief hypnosis they experienced significantly reduced activation in these brain areas.

Additionally, the ‘healthy’ control group had reduced neural activity as well. The no-fear control group had no amygdala activation in either of the two videos.

Conclusion

Ulrike and Wolfb’s research results showed that hypnosis could effectively reduce anxiety-provoking situations such as having dental surgery, endodontic treatments, or insufficient anesthetics.

And they now had the hard, scientific evidence they wanted: Hypnosis does indeed calm down the fear-response in your brain.

What about you?

Does going to the dentist cause you fear and trepidation? Or is it just another thing on your self-care checklist?

Leave a comment. I’d love to hear about your experience.


Source:

(1) Journal of Physiology-Paris, Volume 109, Issues 4–6, December 2015, Pages 131–142. By Ulrike Halsbanda (Department of Psychology, Neuropsychology, University of Freiburg, Germany) & Thomas Gerhard Wolfb (Department of Operative Dentistry, University Medical Center, University of Mainz, Germany)

(2) Faculty Dental Journal, Volume 6, Issue 4, October 2015, pp. 172-175. By Nicola Allison (Graduate of University of Central Lancashire, now practicing in West Wales, UK). See UClan article about Nicola Allison here.

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