It keeps 60 million people from going to the dentist each year. Fear. Anxiety. A local dentist believes he has the antidote ... and it's not a drug.
It's no wonder a trip to the dentist strikes a nerve ... the parodies aren't pleasant. For some ... it's torture. Even in real life.
Sheila Chale, Dental Patient: "It started as a kid going to the dentist where there was nothing given for pain. I remember vividly having a tooth pulled and it took like six attempts. It kept breaking. It was the most horrific thing in my life."
It's no picnic for dentists either ... dealing with frightened clients takes a toll. And the promise of effective numbing and pain medications does little to overcome patients' worries.
Dr. Peter Harnois, Dentist: "The over-riding factor that we face on a daily basis is fear and anxiety in our patients."
Dentists learn to grin and bear it, but the stress chips away.
Dr. Harnois: "Put several of those patients in a row and it just wipes you out."
Sheila Chale wishes she could wipe out her fears. Before each visit, it's the same drill.
Sheila Chale: "The morning of I get up hours ahead of time. I pace around the house. I have trouble breathing. I'm usually so sweaty by the time I sit in the chair so it's horrific."
It's no exageration. On the day of Sheila's visit with Dr. Peter Harnois, our camera had no trouble capturing her jitters.
Sheila Chale: "When I get there I hope the appointment is cancelled. I get in the waiting room and I'm like, 'Maybe he's sick, maybe I get to go home.'"
To keep patients from staying away, Dr. Harnois uses a four-step process. NuCalm calms the mind and body ... without narcotics.
Dr. Harnois: "NuCalm mimics the body's natural communication pathways getting it prepared for sleep."
Step one ... patients down chewable tablets that contain gamma aminobutyric acid -- or GABA. GABA is a natural neurotransmitter that counteracts the high levels of adrenaline flooding a distressed patient's body.
Dr. Harnois: "So you have adrenaline in the brain that ramps us up, then you have GABA, which kind of brings things down. So the GABA is calming. So the first step, get a little GABA in your system. Put the CES device on, which is the cranial electrotherapy stimulation device.
The device delivers a low-level electrical current that promotes relaxation. Step three ...
"Okay, go ahead and put these head phones on."
Dr. Harnois: "The coolest part of this and the key to this process are these headphones which have this neuroacustic software embedded into this classical music."
Patients hear the soothing music ... but it's what they don't hear that works magic. A hidden beat lowers brain activity to a frequency primed for sleep. The slower pace takes panic out of the picture. Low frequency brain waves -- or alpha waves -- leave patients physically unable to be anxious.
Dr. Harnois: "The brain is at about 8 to 12 Hertz when it's relaxed right before you fall asleep. So you're not unconscious but that feeling you can feel the whole stress of the day is letting go. That's what the head phones do."
Finally, dark sunglasses block out light and activity. Within minutes, the patient is transported from the grips of the dental chair to a state of total relaxation.
Dr. Harnois: "So you don't fall asleep. You are not drugged. You are not out of it."
"Go ahead and open, Sheila. Thank you."
Dr. Harnois: "They can still hear you open and close, but they are doing it in a relaxed state. The gag reflex goes down, their sweating goes down, the twitching, all their motor responses brought on by fear and anxiety goes away so it's a much easier, safer way to perform dentistry."
Post-procedure, it's hard to believe this is the same, white-knuckled patient.
Sheila Chale: "It's wonderful. Total relaxation in an absolutely uncomfortable setting. I'm in a dentist chair, having a shot and I'm relaxed. The very things that used to be the worst, when I knew that the needle was coming, I used to say, 'Wait, wait. I'm not ready!' Now it's almost like this little voice inside me laughs and says, 'Ha, ha, it's a needle. Who cares because I know it's not going to hurt.'"
Dr. Harnois uses NuCalm for everything from routine cleanings to complicated procedures. The system is being used outside of the dental office on patients undergoing chemotherapy and other medical procedures. And some doctors are studying the effects of NuCalm on patients with PTSD.
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