Language and Reframing

This article is a stub. It will be expanded upon soon!

Nowadays, most dentists are aware of the need to avoid negative and clinical-sounding words. For example, your dentist may “let the anaesthetic seep in very slowly”, rather than “give an injection”, and use a “handpiece”, rather than a “drill”. They may use expressions like “I don’t expect you to feel this”, rather than “This won’t hurt” (all the person hears is “hurt”!).

Your dentist may also be acutely aware of the need to use reassuring and non-threatening body language.

Positive reinforcement can be a powerful motivator (when accompanied by proper pain management)

Positive reinforcement (or praise in plain English) is another great way of fostering communication and providing support. Frequent praise and positive feedback can go a long way in easing fears, and if sincere, can act as powerful motivators.

If you are a dentist or a dental student and would like to find out more, you can find tips for using language and body language on our sister website, the Dental Anxiety Network.

What you can do

Why are words so powerful in shaping our thinking? A lot of this has to do with learning by association. “Clinical-sounding” words can trigger existing associations with being treated in a clinical, impersonal, and depersonalising way. Many people have come to associate words like “drill” with “pain”.

Using non-threatening words and coupling these with much more positive dental experiences can help to reinterpret the dental situation. For some people, using a “new” alternative word can help to get reduce the negative associations, and act as an alternative to words which have become coupled with bad previous experiences.

Many people find that using these new words (e. g. “handpiece” instead of “drill”) in their self-talk can, over time, help with overcoming dental fears. Once you’ve had some positive encounters with dental care, you can start adopting unthreatening-sounding words when thinking about dental scenarios.