Coming soon: a feature article on dental hypnosis from Mike Gow, BDS!

You’re feeling very sleepy, so very sleepy… more and more sleepy… Hey, if you’re that bored, just visit a different website! What, you like that feeling? Then read on!

What is hypnosis?

Hard to say and even experts can’t quite agree on that one… but it could be described as the quieting of the conscious mind. Hypnotists can help you achieve a state where you can more readily access your subconscious mind, and then give suggestions to help you visualize what it is you want to accomplish. Hypnosis is characterized by a trance state.

Trance is a state of mind in which our normal awareness of the outside world is reduced, and our attention is focused on some activity, physical stimulus, image, fantasy, thought or feeling. People enter this state spontaneously everyday, for example when being lost in thought or day dreaming, working out in the gym, reading, listening to music, surfing the web, or driving “on autopilot”.

Hypnosis formalises this process of entrancement and intensifies it. The person being hypnotised is given a series of instructions which are intended to assist them in achieving a trance state. Hypnosis is not a form of treatment or therapy in its own right, but is used as an adjunct to other therapeutic approaches.

Hypnosis is not magic, you don’t “loose control” any more than you would in the everyday examples above, and as long as it’s used by a responsible professional there should be no concerns regarding safety (more about this below). It is impossible to hypnotise someone against their will – even if some stage hypnotism routines (such as making people eat whole lemons and the like) seem to suggest otherwise, these people actually have the wish to cooperate with the instructions! For example, they may wish to please the hypnotist, or enjoy performing for the crowd and being the centre of attention.

Another salient feature of hypnosis is rapport – a “meeting of the minds”, an emotional affinity or feeling of mutual trust. Did you ever find yourself “mesmerised” by someone who exudes confidence and who appears to be really interested in you as a person? Being entranced in such a way is an example of informal hypnosis, that is, hypnosis without a set of formal instructions.

What are the applications of hypnosis in dentistry?

Some applications of hypnosis in dentistry include controlling a strong gag reflex, treating chronic facial pain, modification of unwanted habits such as teeth grinding, and much more.

Interestingly, it is not used that frequently for treating the actual phobia. This is because hypnosis works extremely well with some people, but isn’t for everyone. For example, Mike Gow (one of the few dentists in the U.K. who holds a masters degree in Hypnosis Applied to Dentistry) uses hypnosis “formally” with only about 15% of his phobic patients. But for those 15%, it works really well!

Can Hypnosis Be Harmful? How to Find a Safe Hypnotherapist

❓ “It has been suggested that hypnosis is a bad idea if someone has experienced certain types of trauma. Are there any circumstances under which hypnosis could prove harmful?”

❗ “Firstly, a Quick Summary of trauma types:

Type I and Type II Trauma are terms developed by Lenore Terr to describe different types of trauma. A single traumatic event such as a fire or single rape episode is considered to be Type I Trauma. Repeated, prolonged trauma, such as extensive child abuse, is considered to be Type II Trauma. According to Terr’s formulation of this concept, these two types of trauma result in different coping styles.

Individuals with Type 1 Trauma receive support from family and friends and usually remember the trauma event. This can often be the type of trauma experienced by individuals who have had a bad previous experience at the dentist’s.

Individuals with Type 2 Trauma are more likely to have severe PTSD symptoms, such as psychic numbing, and dissociation. Type 2 Trauma is often kept a secret and support from family and friends may be absent.

Solomon and Heide build on the work of psychiatrist Lenore Terr, by proposing a third category, Type 3 trauma. Type 3 trauma occurs when an individual experiences multiple, pervasive, violent events beginning at an early age and continuing over a long period of time. Diagnostic criteria include alterations in memory and consciousness, frequently including dissociation; emotional numbing; major developmental deficits; poorly developed, often fragmented, sense of self; a core belief that he or she is fatally flawed and has no right to be alive; a sense of hopelessness and shame; trust issues that interfere with normal relationships; and no concept of a future. Treatment of individuals who have sustained Type III trauma is more complex and demanding relative to survivors of Types I or II trauma.

There are two circumstances under which hypnosis could prove harmful in the context of dental phobia:

(1) A patient may be attending a ‘hypnotherapist’ for the phobia and a dentist for the dental treatment. Now, the dentist may possibly repeat a bad experience, and therefore contradict ‘promises’ made by the hypnotherapist. The danger would be if hypnosis is used to promise that everything will be ok, and then something unexpected happens – as this will obviously worsen the phobia by re-traumatising the patient. Usually it is possible to avoid this problem by NOT promising anything when possible, but instead to state what is ‘likely to happen’ while highlighting that ‘in the unlikely event of x, y or z, you will be pleasantly surprised by how little it bothers you and how in control you feel’. Patients also should always be able to stop the procedure if things are getting to a point whereby they are feeling traumatised again.

(2) There may be another related or unrelated type II trauma on top of the type I trauma of the bad dental experience.

It is important that anyone using hypnosis is able to recognise if there are other psychological issues (e. g. in this case the possibility of type II trauma) and, if these issues are outside their field of expertise, to refer to an appropriate individual.

Obviously as a dentist I would not be using hypnosis outside my field and would therefore not be treating people suffering from other type II trauma anyway. If such a trauma is suspected or identified, an appropriate referral for that problem is made should the patient wish.”

❓ “Should hypnosis be avoided completely in the case of a type 2 trauma?”

❗ “I don’t see why a professional who deals with type II or even type III trauma anyway should not use hypnosis in a controlled and responsible manner with such a patient in beginning to come to terms with whatever the problem is. I would just say something like “It is essential that that your hypnotherapist is fully trained in treating your problem” (even if they did not use hypnosis). Hypnosis is an adjunct to therapy, and it can only be as effective as the underlying therapy permits.”

❓ “How can people ensure that a hypnotherapist won’t “mess with their heads” and inadvertently harm them?”

❗ “I would recommend that hypnosis should be used as an adjunct to therapy by an appropriately trained professional who is a member of a recognised society. There are many ‘lay’ hypnotherapists and the public find it very difficult to differentiate between people who are plumbers and did a weekend course and now (quite legally) advertise in the yellow pages, and folk who have an associated profession in which hypnosis is used as an adjunct, and have undertaken extensive courses.

Even with detailed explanation of qualifications it is difficult to know what’s what. There has been some controversy recently as a ‘lay’ organisation hired a room at a London Hospital, and certificates were issued to people with no medical/dental/psychology background stating that they trained in hypnosis at the Hospital! How misleading is that to the public! Definitely a mine field, and my advice would be stick to a professional who is a member of one of the recognised hypnosis societies.

Lay hypnotherapists ARE NOT qualified in any way, and often have undertaken a hypnosis course despite their lack of related qualifications. They then promote themselves as qualified hypnotherapists. Qualified hypnotherapists are very much in a minority. As there is no real stipulation for additional qualifications in hypnosis, any dentist (or medical professional) can ‘dabble’ in hypnosis with only a very basic understanding of it.

It is my opinion that anyone going to a UK hypnotherapist should use someone who is registered with one of the major hypnosis societies in the UK, i.e. BSECH, BSMDH, BSMDH (Scotland), BSMDH Mets & South, or RSM Section of Hypnosis & Psychosomatic Medicine. Anyone who is a member of these societies has at the very least undergone training (probably of 4 to 8 full days) related to their profession. This would undoubtedly be the safest way of determining that you are going to someone who is qualified in treating you.”

The information above was provided by Mike Gow, BDS. If you’re in the USA, you can check for membership with the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis or the Society for Clinical and Experimental Hypnosis (these are the only two nationally recognized organizations for health care professionals using hypnosis). You can contact a state or local component section of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis to find out if a person is a reputable member.