There is a dichotomy that all dentists live with. We perform necessary dental treatment that brings healing to the patient. Yet, we know that this treatment, no matter how painless it might be, may cause emotional trauma for the patient. The knowledge that this often causes the patient to avoid dental treatment is well documented. The fear of dentistry can result in some people not seeking dental care at all, even in emergency situations.
What is not as well recognized, yet is just as traumatic, is the effect that this dichotomy may have on the dentist in general, and on me personally. I always related to the idea that the sensitive dentist, (of which I surely am one), absorbs that negative energy from their patients. Although we are very respected in our communities for our education and skills, patients, including our family and friends, often regard us, and not just in our offices, as “the dentist.” All dentists can relate to those conversations at parties that include, “I love you, you’re a great guy. But, I hate dentists.” Or people who open their mouths at parties and show you their teeth. Every one of them has a dental horror story, and you hear all of them.
Dealing with both clinical and non-clinical stressful situations can cause the dentist a great deal of emotional conflict. So much so, that dentists have statistically high addiction and suicide rates. In 1994, I sustained a disabling hand injury, which forced me to retire and sell my practice. Some aspects of early, forced retirement have been difficult. On the one hand, I can’t do what I was trained to do. Also, I can’t help to heal people, which is a major reason I wanted to go into dentistry in the first place. On the other hand, it’s been a huge relief not having to deal with the stresses or the negative energy.
There remains a struggle in this area of my life, and it has continued to trouble me. Why does it have to be such a negative experience for people, when in fact dentistry has progressed to the point where, given all the modalities used today to keep the patient comfortable, pain doesn’t have to be part of the experience? There’s something about this experience, whether it be as obvious as the sounds, the smells and sights, or as complex as the feelings of helplessness and loss of control, that can trigger severe dental phobias. Research has even indicated that there is a connection between past physical abuse and dental phobias.
During the gathering of the research for this article, I have come to two major conclusions:
1. The fear of some aspect of dental treatment is a common and complex issue. It presents itself in many forms and comes from many causes. It crosses all social, economic and educational stratums. It is a major contributing factor in the reasons why many people do not seek proper dental care.
2. Dentists can play an important role in the cause and the resolution of dental fears and phobias. Educating themselves and their patients about the multitude of successful anxiety and pain-reducing methods available can create positive, sensitive and gentle dental experiences.
Recently, as a result of trying to alleviate some of the normal pre- and post-operative fears, anxieties and stresses around my wife’s June, 2007 hip re-surfacing surgery in a natural and spiritual way, we came across an exciting, relatively unknown, gentle, non-invasive and successful self-help treatment called EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). EFT, a form of energy psychology, is a simple technique of tapping on specific acupuncture points while thinking about an issue.
Since then, my wife, Abby, and I received our EFT-ADV certificates in 2008. EFT has helped us, our friends, our family and our clients. I believe it can help dentists and patients to reduce or eliminate the emotional stresses related to dental treatment.
Each patient has a unique set of emotional triggers. For some, embarrassment over their dental condition, or merely sitting in the dental chair, or opening their mouths, produces some anxiety. For others, the thought of the injection, or the funny feeling of lip and tongue numbness, or the sight of the instruments, or the high-pitched whining sound and vibrations of the air-driven turbine hand-piece, or the scent and taste of dental medicaments and materials, can trigger the fight or flight reaction of the amygdala and uncontrollable anxiety and fear responses. As a result, the patient may avoid all dental care, including emergency treatment, even if done by the most caring and gentle dentist.
As I mentioned earlier, some dental phobias are relate to past physical or sexual abuse. In these cases, it is important to work with an experienced EFT practitioner who can guide one through the process, and with a dentist who is sensitive to the patient’s needs.The possibility of successful and non-traumatic dental experiences will be greatly increased.
In cases where the fears or phobias are not as traumatic, the dentist or one of his assistants or hygienists can use the EFT method with the patient. They can even learn the technique, and work with it on her/his own.
I am thrilled about the possibilities that EFT can bring to the existing modalities. In 2009, we produced a 3-DVD set called “Freedom From Dental Fears”. In it, EFT Master, Andy Bryce, was videotaped using EFT to help reduce the dental fears of 4 volunteer patients who had presented with moderate to severe dental phobias. These 1-hour sessions show how EFT can be used to dramatically decrease the emotional charge surrounding previous dental experiences or traumas. The results are a powerful and compelling example of how EFT can be used to reduce or eliminate dental fears and phobias. Further information about EFT and dental fears can be found at my website, http://www.freedomfromdentalfears.com/