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Banish that fear of the dentists

Posted Feb 19 2009 6:29pm

At the weekend, I was happily sipping hot coffee in bed whilst perusing the Saturday papers - what luxury! -  when I came across the horrifying story of Sophie Waller, the little girl who died as an indirect result of her trauma after having teeth removed.

Stop! Can this actually be true? An eight-year-old girl starved to death due to, as the papers are reporting it, a ’severe dental phobia.’

The story touched me in particular, not only because this little girl was also called Sophie but also because, as a small girl, I also had several teeth removed under general anaesthetic - which was common practice back then - and I remember being really quite traumatised by the expereince.

I remember being led upstairs in my anaesthesia-induced fog by the dental nurse. Yes, that’s right, after a brief general anaesthetic and the removal of many teeth (I forget now how many… eight, twelve?) I was guided up a steep flight of stairs by the dental nurse to a recovery room. I still remember the nighmarish feeling of trying desperately to make my legs move - a strange kind of sleep paralysis that I just couldn’t make any sense of - and desperately trying to say something with a mouth that just wouldn’t work. I still remember feeling ashamed that a tear was escaping down my cheek.

Of course, these days I am sure that would not happen. General anaesthesia is no longer administered in dental practices and, you never know, these days I may even have a friendly hypnotherapist on hand to help me with some hypnotic aneasthesia - no side effects, no fear.

It also seems that many dentists now are much more aware of the issue of people’s emotions. I have blogged recently about various awards given for excellence in the field of dental hypnosis.

Many dentists are now more aware of the importance of the language that they use and the hypnotic influence of parents who can pass their own fears on to their children.

Dr Nigel Carter of the British Dental Health Foundation says in the BBC article:

“I can recollect children coming in being fine and then the parents at the end of the visit saying, ‘There, that didn’t hurt did it?’ It
would be the first time the child had thought about any pain.”

But when I read the story of this other little Sophie, I felt a huge upsurge of sadness, compassion and anger that anyone should be traumatised in this way by a medical procedure or not get the help they need from the professionals involved.

Of course, we do not have all the details and it is very wrong to speculate on these stories without all the proper information. This is how BBC News Online reports the case:

‘Even for those with a dread of visiting the dentist, the tragic case of
eight-year-old Sophie Waller seems bewildering. Sophie was already
scared of dentists when one of her milk teeth became loose. Her parents
were later to tell the inquest into the schoolgirl’s death that it had
developed at the age of four, when her tongue was nicked during a
routine check-up.

Refusing to eat or talk, she was sent to hospital to have the wobbly
tooth removed under general anaesthetic. Doctors took the opportunity
to remove several teeth but following the operation, Sophie was so
traumatised she refused to open her mouth and continued her fast.

While Sophie grew weaker, the severity of her condition was not
realised by the hospital. She died the month after the operation from
the effects of starvation and dehydration.’

As the article goes on to say, fear of the dentists - even dental phobia - is very common. Over the last couple of years, I have worked with many clients to help them to let go of unhelpful emotions and associations around visiting the dentists. The BBC reports that: ‘In 1988, a survey of oral health in the UK found 60% of people were “to
some extent… nervous of some kinds of dental treatment”. A decade
later, that figure had dropped to 32%.’

That is a lot of people - a substantial portion of the population. And this problem can so easily be treated with hypnotherapy and self-hypnosis.

I worked with a client recently who had been having problems sleeping and she called me up to tell me, excitedly, that she had used the self-hypnosis techniques that we had been working on together to have a filling done at the dentists. Apparently, she hates the injections of local anaesthetic (me too!) and so decided to use the same self-hypnosis technique that she now uses to drift off into deep sleep to help her to drift away into dreamland whilst the dentist got on with his job. Brilliant!

Other people I have worked with have found it difficult to even get to the front door of the dental surgery but, once they have let go of past memories and associations, they are able to go for their regular appointments with ease.

So I was so sad to read about little Sophie and so sad for her family who did not get the help they needed. If you know someone - a child or adult - who is terrified of the dentists, please, please do point them in the direction of a good hypnotherapist.

And if you live in California, you can even consult with my colleague, the hypnotherapist Seth-Deborah Roth, who specialises in this area and recently wrote about her own use of hypnosis during dental surgery.

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