Hypnosis a powerful tool for anxious patients, says Edmonton dentistry prof

An Edmonton dentist has a new remedy for patients who dread the sight of a needle or drill.

Hypnosis.

Dr. Liran Levin has been using the practice for years to help patients calm their anxieties and manage their pain during difficult procedures.

"Try to forget what you know about hypnosis from movies and TV shows and things like that," Levin, head of the periodontology division of the University of Alberta's medicine and dentistry faculty, said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

"We're talking about medical hypnosis, which is quite a large medical field all over the world."

Hypnotism may conjure images of swaying pocket watches and Reveen, but it's a common practice inside the sterile white walls of Levin's practice.

"Basically, it's a process we're doing with the patient, were teaching them how to get into this relaxed atmosphere or this relaxed state of their consciousness," he said. "I'm helping you to get to into that state, if you don't want it, it won't happen."

Levin estimates that he's hypnotized more than 100 patients.

'I thought it was nonsense'

Levin is a visiting professor from Harvard School of Dental Medicine. He was also the head of research at the School of Dentistry, Rambam Health Care Campus, and Faculty of Medicine in Technion IIT Haifa, Israel.

Although he swears by it now, Levin admits — before he took a year-long course in medical hypnosis — he was a big skeptic.

"I started my training back in Israel and started that course because I didn't believe in it," he said.

"I thought it was nonsense, but I decided to do that course … and I was really, really amazed how much of an influence our mind can have on what we're feeling."

'It's amazing to see'

The practice, dating back centuries, may seem akin to witchcraft or placebo effect, but it has real value as a relaxation technique, said Levin, who likens the practice to deep meditation.

"It's not something where you lose control or don't know what you're doing. You're just more relaxed and more open to suggestions," Levin said.

"Sometimes you can even have areas in your mouth numbed just by hearing what I'm saying."

He said hypnosis has proved to be an alternative to sedation or anaesthesia, especially for patients with extreme phobia of needles and drills.

"People [become] more open, especially after we start the process and they see where it's not something where they're having this lack of control," he said. 

"It's amazing to see how our brains influences what were are feeling and how we are perceiving things that are happening to us."