SAN DIEGO (Reuters Health) - If you arrive at the dentist's office
angry--or fearful or sad, for that matter--take a moment to get
in a neutral state of mind. That way, the drilling, poking and
prodding will seem to hurt less, according to a Canadian researcher
who has studied how emotions modulate the pain experience.
"Negative emotions affected the perception of pain more than positive
emotions in our experiment," said Quoc Viet Huynh Bao, a dental
student at the University of Montreal, who will present his findings
Saturday in San Diego at the annual meeting of the International
Association for Dental Research.
In the study, Huynh Bao asked 26 men and women in their 20s
and 30s to immerse one hand in hot water, at about 113 to 122
degrees Fahrenheit (45 to 50 degrees Celsius). The temperatures
were individually adjusted so that each person could tolerate
the water for a minute without too much pain, he told Reuters
Next, the investigators used hypnotic suggestion to induce a
range of emotions during each one-minute immersion: relaxation,
depression, anger, fear, anticipation of relief, and satisfaction.
As the hand was immersed, the researchers would induce emotion
with statements such as "You feel angry" or "You want to escape,
but cannot." Then the study participants reported how much pain
they felt and how unpleasant it was.
Study participants felt the pain was more unpleasant when they
were experiencing fear, depression or anger, Huynh Bao reported.
"With positive emotions there was a reduction in pain, but it
was not significant," he added.
Previous studies, he said, have found the opposite: that fear
and anger, such as experienced by soldiers at war, reduce pain.
But this study found the negative emotions worsened pain perception.
"Negative emotion states make pain feel worse," he explained.
The more susceptible study participants were to hypnosis, the
stronger emotions they felt and the more their emotions influenced
their pain perception, Huynh Bao noted.
For dentists, he added, the message is to try to help their
patients get into at least a neutral state of mind before beginning
treatment. Patients who arrive at the dentist's office feeling
negatively should take a few moments to relax, listen to a joke
or take other measures to banish negative emotions, he suggested.
Reference Source 89