Scared of the drill? Dental spa gets to the root of the problem

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TUNE in, turn on and say ahhh.

A morbid fear of needles and screeching drills has left tens of thousands of Scots too scared to visit the dentist. To counter this, surgeries have introduced a variety of hi-tech treatment programmes to sooth the nerves of anxious patients.

Dentophobes are being offered counselling, pain-free injections, hypnotherapy and headphones playing relaxing music.

One practice even provides patients with lavender-fragranced pillows, massages and special goggles which allow them to watch episodes of Sex And The City during treatment.

But such pampering is only available at private surgeries, where the cost of treatment can be high.

Cherrybank in Perth markets itself as Scotland's first American-style dental spa. It offers a range of techniques which are designed to help anxious patients relax.

Cherrybank Dentist Dr Elaine Halley said: "The history of dentistry in our country has left a lot of people with anxieties and fears about going for treatment.

"At least 80% of our patients have some sort of anxiety about visiting the dentist. We are focused on helping people overcome their fears and getting over bad experiences from the past."

Visitors to the spa are greeted with music and the smell of fresh bread and coffee – rather than disinfectant and drills – and wait in a "complimentary comfort zone".

Cherrybank spokeswoman Amanda Queen said: "It is miles away from the traditional dentist with its austere waiting room filled with plastic chairs.

"You can have your feet massaged while you are waiting for your appointment. We will have someone to hold nervous patients' hands if necessary."

During treatment, patients lie in a chair with built-in massage pads, are issued with warm lavender neck pillows, and can have relaxing wax treatment on their hands.

They can also watch DVDs on special wrap-around goggles with stereo headphones. "The glasses take people's minds off what is going on. They also make our job easier too because people aren't fidgeting."

Patients can choose from a selection of DVDs including Sex And The City, Desperate Housewives, hit films The Devil Wears Prada and The Da Vinci Code, and the US comedy Frazier.

The Craigentinny Dental Health Centre in Edinburgh has also been inundated with requests for help from people who previous shunned dentists, sometimes for years at a time.

Dentist Fraser Hendrie said: "We were getting significant numbers of queries from people who were nervous.

"Because of this we decided to put together a nervous patients programme. Around 90% of our patients have an anxiety of some level, but we have found that there are very few people we aren't able to help."

Hendrie prefers to use counselling rather than sedation in helping people to overcome their phobias.

"Patients often are worried they might be laughed at or ridiculed. I explain that if they are scared it is not their fault. Their bodies are putting them on a bio-chemical rollercoaster. We try to give control back to them and they can stop the treatment whenever they want."

Hendrie uses a variety of techniques to reassure patients, including the increasingly widespread application of anaesthetic to the gum before injections to make them largely pain-free.

"Another simple thing that we do is to warm local anaesthetic. It makes it much less of a shock to the body when it goes in, and is less noticeable."

Mike Gow, of Glasgow's Berkeley Clinic, uses hypnosis, alongside conventional treatments, for patients who are afraid of needles.

Gow asks his patients to imagine pain as a dial running from one to 10, and tells them that they have the power to control the lever of pain by simply turning down the dial in their mind.

One patient, Amanda Maxwell, had a tooth removed without anaesthetic.

"I'm quite a wimp when it comes to pain," she said. "But during the operation my mind was elsewhere so it didn't hurt. I could hear the machine drilling into my jaw but it didn't bother me at all."

Gow, the president of the British Society of Medical and Dental Hypnosis, said it was only one of many options. "A lot of people are simply too embarrassed to come in because of how their teeth are. I stress to them that I am here to help and that I see a lot of bad teeth. I am here to help them and there is absolutely no point giving them a row."

Wedding organiser Vivien McCaig has overcome her deep-seated fears after attending the Cherrybank Dental Spa.

The Edinburgh resident said: "I had some dreadful experiences with dentists when I was young. I started avoiding the dentist and one year became five, and then eight.

"Previously I had to be dragged into the surgery and burst into tears afterwards, but the difference at Cherrybank is like day and night. It is amazing to be able to lie there and watch Sex And The City when you are getting treatment done.

"I'm so relaxed that I am able to have a laugh with the staff at reception which would have been unthinkable before. There was certainly a bullet to bite in terms of the cost, but for me it was definitely worth it."

The relaxation techniques at Cherrybank are free, but an initial examination costs 110, fillings cost around 100, and veneers can cost up to 1,000 per tooth.

Andrew Lamb, the British Dental Association's director for Scotland confirmed the trend and said: "Many dentists now offer techniques, such as sedation or hypnosis to make the experience comfortable for patients who are especially anxious or phobic about having dental treatment."

Dental guidance

Five films to avoid watching in the dentist's chair.

Marathon Man: A Nazi dentist, played by Sir Laurence Olivier, uses his dental implements as instruments of torture – guaranteed to chill you to your root canals.

Little Shop Of Horrors: An abusive and sadistic orthodontist takes centre stage.

Driller Killer: This previously banned 1980s video nasty would be enough to make you wire your teeth shut.

Jaws: Gaping mouths and bloody mutilated bodies do not make for a comfortable viewing experience.

Darkness Falls: A murderous ghoul takes the innocuous form of the tooth fairy.