My dentist consultant suggested that "drilling" is a "scary" term and we
might use others that have less of a "cringe" factor. Maybe it's "preparing
the tooth, adjusting the tooth enamel, removing the decay, or smoothing the
tooth surface with a diamond instrument."
After a recent dental visit, I went to meet with a
colleague. I told him I just had lunch with my
dentist on the deck of a nice restaurant with a view
of San Francisco bay. "Lunch with your dentist!" he
said surprised, "I imagine that must have been before your
treatment, not afterwards, or the food would be falling out of
your mouth?" "No, after my treatment," I replied, "in fact my
dentist just did two fillings and a crown. I don't get injections
for dental work and I haven't for about forty years, so my face
"Wow! that's impressive," said the friend, "How do you
manage? Why don't you write an article about that."
It's true, I haven't taken injections or other painkillers
like nitrous oxide, during dental work since the 1970s and our
conversation got me thinking about different ways to handle
pain, and that it might be an interesting subject to explore. Well,
here's my review on this topic.
When people are asked about what causes them anxiety,
going to the dentist is high on the list. Just imagining a visit
to the dentist may trigger fear or even anxiety and pain. By the
way, the brain doesn't know the difference between what you
imagine and what is really happening.
How do you manage the anxiety or pain of going to the
dentist? Do you use affirmations? This might be as simple as
saying to yourself, "I will not experience pain during my visit
today. I will relax fully and let my dentist do her work." What do
you do if you start to tense up? Can you relax? Do you use music
to focus your attention and block out the sound of the drill?
If so, do you have a favorite playlist? I have personally used a
couple acupuncture points, like "hoku" or Large Intestine 4 on
the hand in the notch between the thumb and the index finger.
This helped my children when they had fillings done without
Of course, pain is pain as it forms in the brain, and
from my experience, there is a wide spectrum related to how
people handle pain, from a low to high threshold. Regarding
dental pain, many people are even more sensitive. Maybe
it's because most of us experienced that loud and scary drill
when we were youngsters and some of the drilling really hurt.
For many, however, and from my interviews with people, the
fear and anxiety about potential pain is often worse than what
actually happens in the dental chair—the occasional pain that
can happen as part of the drilling and filling teeth, preparing
crowns, and the routine dental cleanings.
NOTE:My dentist consultant suggested that "drilling" is
a "scary" term and we might use others that have less of a
"cringe" factor. Maybe it's "preparing the tooth, adjusting the
tooth enamel, removing the decay, or smoothing the tooth
surface with a diamond instrument."
I am speaking from my personal experience in receiving much
dental work without any anesthetic injection. I've had multiple
crowns and fillings done over the years, as well as having had
all the silver-mercury amalgams removed and replaced with
gold initially and later with composite fillings, which I still have.
And I've had both my kids and some friends handle the dental
experience of fillings without the "caine-numbing" shots.
NOTE: on Anesthetic Drugs: Dentists have been administering
local anesthesia for many years - starting with Novocaine
injections into the gums to numb the local area before drilling
or doing other work on a tooth. There are newer versions of
this drug, such as Lidocaine, Marcaine, or Carbocaine, and
they have minimal side effects, although allergic reactions can
occur, as can bruising of the gum areas or prolonged numbness
of the area. There has also been some concern about the
carcinogenicity of the "caine" drugs, specifically Lidocaine.
Some injections contain epinephrine as well, and this can lessen
bleeding at the gums, but can also agitate people and cause
them more anxiety. Some dentists prefer nitrous oxide gas to
help relax people and to alter their pain sensation. However, the
gas is found to have dangers to the brain and nervous system,
so it is used much less often these days. Of course, this article
emphasizes what I support—living free from anesthetics (and
pharmaceuticals in general) when possible. On the other hand,
dentists have legitimate concerns about patients jumping in
pain or grabbing them, and issues of oral damage from quick
movements or reactive patients. Overall, it's crucial to find the
appropriate approach for each person and their chosen dentist.
Would you like to know how this non-drug dentistry can
be done? Some of you will say, "No way! Why?" Just the idea
and memories of drilling the teeth that we have experienced
previously may make us want to go numb. So we may even
request local anesthesia for teeth cleaning and simple,
superficial cavities. Of course, I am also aware that all dentists
and especially those who care for younger children have learned
more about gentleness and many ways to lessen pain and make
the dental experience much better than decades ago. Also, some
dentists may have learned hypnosis while still in dental school
or afterwards, and this technique can be useful for any anxious
patients or very scared children, having them relax deeply and
imagine for instance that they are watching their favorite TV
I suggest here that the common application of anesthetics
isn't needed as often as it is used. I wonder if we could save
the typical mouth and face numbing primarily for the deeper
cavities and drilling. Most of the tooth enamel does not have
a huge amount of sensation. "It can be like getting a haircut,"
says dentist, Lila Skelley, although of course, dentistry is often
much more than that. She confirms that teeth don't have a lot
of sensation unless the work goes deep and connects with the
dental nerves or irritates the gum tissues. So I also suggest that
you talk to your dentist before any procedure and find out if the
nerves or gums will be affected rather than having injections
every time as a matter of course.
Why did I even think about avoiding numbing injections?
What was my motivation? It wasn't even that I didn't like needles
or shots; I liked less the numb feeling and being uncomfortable
for hours after dental work. Also, I was in my new lifestyle
approach of natural living, not wanting any pharmaceutical
drugs put into my body unless absolutely necessary. I still
practice that approach many decades later.
My exploration began back in the mid-1970s when I
was studying Chinese and natural medicines. I realized
that health and healing, "is all about energy!" According to
Chinese Medicine, energy, called Chi, flows within us through the "meridian" channels, and when all is flowing without
obstructions, we experience good health and vitality. Pain
comes from an energy build-up (often with subsequent
inflammation) or blockage in the flow. So, keeping everything
moving became my goal. In Western science, pain is in the
brain. It's often how we perceive experiences that connects to
how much pain we have.
So, what is the dentist's drilling if not a loud and intense
energy (referred to as neural-electric energy)? I thought,
"Why can't I just let that drill energy flow through me without
resisting and see how that works?" So, at my next visit to Dr.
Randy Rush, my local Bolinas town dentist in 1977, we drilled
and filled a cavity without any anesthetic. I experienced a
twinge of nerve pain and I gripped the armrests rather tightly
and took a deep breath. We made it through. Of course,
Randy was a little unsure and uncomfortable doing this since
he didn't want to hurt me. When I walked out of the office,
however, I felt fine, even great, with no after effects, no numb
lips and cheek, and no pain.
Another potential benefit of this no-drug approach
involves the dentist. This is because dentists need to be more
cautious with technique and the intensity of their work, and
need to stay attuned to the patient and their pains, and often
work more slowly and gently. The benefit to the patient is there
may be less subsequent swelling and tissue pain after the
treatment. I can't remember experiencing any post-treatment
pains or problems, and that's after crowns and drilling and
filling. This process may take a bit more time if the dentists
adapt their speed, but remember; we are saving the time and
cost of an injection, the time it takes to get numb and the extra
time to recover. Of course not every dentist—and I've had six
or seven of them work in my mouth in the past 40 years—
embraces this for a variety of reasons.
So here's how I approach injection/drug-free dentistry.
Strategies To Improve Your Dental Experience at end of article.) To begin with, I visualize any
drilling, the noise and vibration, as energy moving through the
tooth and my whole body; I don't resist and tighten. I let it go
and let it flow. The next challenge or step is how to apply this
same approach to any nerve stimulation and perceived "pain."
I use a similar technique—I repeat and say to myself, "This is
energy passing through my nerve," I don't call it "pain" and
I don't resist. "It's just a moment," I tell myself and it passes
almost as quickly as I can identify it. Crazy? I don't think so.
How is this any different than taking a natural approach
to dealing with a headache? It's easy to just think, "I have a
headache and what can I take to make it go away?" That's a
typical Western Medicine approach. I have taught and lived a
more integrative and natural approach. "Why do I have this
headache? Am I stressed? Dehydrated? Is my neck out of
alignment? Is it intestinal toxicity from bad food or drink?"
Ideally, for any condition, it's a higher level of medicine to figure
out and address the underlying cause. This doesn't mean that
we must suffer with pain; we can always use medicines to
help counter problems, but my message is not as a first step.
Ideally, my medical model is "Lifestyle first, Natural Therapies,
next, and Drugs last."
So, why do the dentists and most patients automatically
assume that the mouth needs to be numbed for most
procedures? What about just doing the various "caine"
drugs for those situations where they know that it's going
to be intense? My point here is to reconsider this approach
and attitude and try to handle some simpler procedures or
superficial fillings first as an experiment.
My general suggestion is this: A good portion of the drilling
and filling is at most, minimally painful, and momentary as
well. And it's often tolerable to go without shots and numbing
and see how you feel. Work with your dentist to see if you
can cooperate together for a new dental experience. And then
perhaps begin to apply this approach to other areas of your life
where you experience pain or anxiety.
Strategies To Improve Your Dental Experience
Imagery Exercise before you go see your dentist –
One easy practice to do before you go to the
dentist is begin to imagine you are in your
favorite place, like on the beach or in front of
a cozy fireplace. Make this as real as possible,
seeing the place, smelling the smells, like the
smell of the ocean, and feel the pleasure of being
in your favorite place. Now press your first finger
and thumb together, which anchors this imaginary
experience in your body and brain. You could also
anchor with a scent that you like. Practice this a
few times before you go to the dentist. The more
you practice this the more you can depend on it
working in real life, at the dentist’s office.
Imagery Exercise to do in the chair—
You have a few options here, do the same practice
as above or simply use your anchors of touch and
smell to move you into a calm peaceful state.
Relax and circulate energy with your breath,
up the front of you as you breathe in and down
the back as you breathe out. Feel the calm and
comfort in your body. The drill and dental work
are just energy, and if you don’t resist, it moves
right through you.
Music to Soothe—
Choose a relaxing playlist of music to listen to on
Some dentists have music to listen to or a
movie to watch to keep us, and especially kids,
occupied and protected from the identifying