Ask the dentist: Taking a deep breath can help with dental pain

'Mindful' breathing has been shown to reduce anxiety, stress, depression and dental pain, says Lucy Stock of Gentle Dental Care in Belfast

Deep breathing exercises can help soothe dental pain
Lucy Stock

"TAKE a deep breath, it calms the mind," suggested Regina Brett, an American author and inspirational speaker. She couldn't have been more spot-on, as research, hot out of the lab, has just shown how the power of breathing can physically alter the brain itself and help people suffering from pain.

As dentists, we are dealing with patients who are experiencing lots of different types of pains every day. The pains differ in their intensity with some lasting minutes to hours while others go on for days.

Unfortunately, some dental-facial pains are chronic in nature, and these are the ones that really get people down. Often people try multiple medications to try and bring their pain under control.

Typically, we hear that people don't want to be on them due to the side effects and their waning effectiveness over time.

The pain study, completed by the Michigan School of Dentistry, took two groups of people. One group practised mindful breathing while imagining their lungs inflate and deflate and the other group wore immersive virtual reality goggles and watched a pair of lungs move while hearing their own breath sounds.

Mindful breathing has already been proven to reduce anxiety, stress, depression and pain among patients. It has also been shown that people who are long term practitioners of Zen meditation have higher pain thresholds due to their brains being able to reduce the activity in the part of the brain that perceives pain.

The scientists of this recent study found that both mindful breathing and virtual reality breathing had positive effects on the brain by improving people's pain barriers - both groups felt less pain however the fully immersive virtual reality additional sensory effects reduced pain levels even more.

When the brain suffers from chronic pain its grey matter shrinks. Grey matter is important as it controls movement, memory, and emotions. Meditation with its mindful breathing element increases grey matter and so improves brain function by helping to keep the brain in a state of calmness which in turn reduces pain.

So, if you're worried about going to the dentist or have ongoing facial pain you may want to try any of the deep breathing techniques while visualising your lungs to help soothe your brain and any anxiety or pain.

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