MD, PhD, MAE, FMedSci, FRSB, FRCP, FRCPEd.

Third molar extraction is a painful treatment and thus is often used to investigate the effects of analgesics on pain. Hypnotherapy is said to help to reduce pain and to decrease the intake of postoperative systemic analgesics. Therefore, it seems reasonable to study the effects of hypnotherapy on the pain caused by third molar extraction.

In this study, the effectiveness of a brief hypnotic induction for patients undergoing third molar extractions was investigated. Data were collected from 33 patients with third molar extractions on the right and left sides. Patients received two different types of interventions in this monocentric randomized crossover trial. Third molar extraction was conducted on one side with reduced preoperative local anesthetics and an additional brief hypnotic induction (Dave Elman technique). The other side was conducted with regular preoperative local anesthetics without a brief hypnotic induction (standard care). Intake of postoperative systemic analgesics was allowed in both treatments.

Patients’ expectations about hypnosis were assessed at baseline. The primary outcome was the area under the curve with respect to ground of pain intensity after the treatment. Secondary outcomes were the amount of postoperative analgesics consumed and the preferred treatment.

There was no evidence that the area under the curve with respect to ground of pain differed between the two interventions (controlling for gender). There was, however, evidence to show that the patients’ expectations affected the effectiveness of the brief hypnotic induction. This means that patients with high expectations about hypnosis benefit more from treatment with reduced preoperative local anesthetics and additional brief hypnotic induction.

The authors concluded that, in this study, additional a brief hypnotic induction with reduced preoperative local anesthetic use did not generally reduce posttreatment pain after third molar extraction more than regular local anesthetics. The expectation of the patients about the effectiveness of hypnosis affected the effectiveness of the brief hypnotic induction so that patients with high expectations had a larger benefit from a brief hypnotic induction than patients with low expectations.

The most interesting findings here are, in my view, that:

  1. Hypnotherapy is not as effective as many enthusiasts claim.
  2. Expectation influences the outcome of hypnotherapy.

Expectation is, of course, a determinant of the size of the placebo response. Thus, this finding is interesting but far from unexpected. I would go as far as postulating that similar results would be obtained with most treatments regardless of whether they are alternative or conventional. The difference is that, in the case of alternative therapies, the expectation is a major (if not the only) determinant of the outcome, while it merely somewhat improves the outcome of an effective treatment. To put it differently, so-called alternative medicine (SCAM) relies entirely/mostly on expectation, while conventional medicine does not.

3 Responses to Hypnotherapy for Third Molar Extraction: A Randomized Clinical Trial

  • My dental practice brands itself “The home of pain-free dentistry”. Indeed they are excellent and my dentist is a most careful and thorough clinician.

    In the UK, not so many dental practices accept NHS patients nowadays, and I am in a private dental plan, costing so much a month. It’s called The Pain-free Dental Plan.

    I joked with them that they had simply transferred the pain from the mouth to the wallet. I asked, for a bit less, could I have The Moderate Discomfort Dental Plan, or if I was ever facing hard times, could I transfer, for much less money, to the Absolute Agony Dental Plan…..

    Hypnotherapy would not be among my choices…. I declined the proffered soothing sounds/music by headphones while having a long root treatment and preparation for crown.

  • Where is your proof that expectation does not influence conventional medicine?

    • you misunderstood me: of course, it does! but as effective therapies have specific effects independent of expectation, it is not a MAIN determinant of the outcome.

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