2265 North Clybourn Avenue    Chicago, IL 60614    P: 773.296.6700     F: 773.296.1131

Dentist Anxieties? Fear of Flying?

Posted 01/23/2012

One of my favorite books has always been the 1964 classic The Myth of Mental Illness, by Thomas Szasz, MD. A psychiatrist and still writing at the ripe age of 91, Szasz castigated his fellow professionals for labeling too many people with relatively mild emotional symptoms “mentally ill,” especially when it came to medicating or hospitalizing them.

What we now call mood disorders (including such familiar diagnoses as depression, anxiety/panic, obsessive thinking, and PTSD) Szasz felt were over-diagnosed, with physicians reaching for their prescription pads as quickly as Wyatt Earp drew his Colt at the OK Corral.

Situational anxieties, such as fear of dental work or flying, can certainly make their victims miserable. But even though over the years I’ve examined some pretty neglected teeth and witnessed more than one major airline passenger meltdown, I would never label sufferers mentally ill simply because their behavior goes against the accepted norm of how people should act.

Dental and airplane anxieties are currently classified in DSM-IV (the diagnostic manual of mental illness) as phobias, which seems to me seriously off the mark. A phobia is a persistent, abnormal, and irrational fear that truly (truly!) interferes with a person’s life, like the fear of open public spaces (agoraphobia) or closed ones (claustrophobia).

What might perpetuate the myth that dental and flying anxieties are forms of mild mental illness is the fact that medications used for mood disorders do work and are readily accepted (often with gratitude) by patients. A Xanax taken an hour before a root canal or boarding your flight does provide a reasonably useful Band-Aid, and many patients maintain a Xanax stash for just these occasions.

But despite the availability of helpful medications, what Szasz would say is that fears of dental work and flying are not particularly unreasonable…and they’re not phobias. In one survey of dental-phobics, most patients were fearful of pain because they’d experienced severe dental pain in the past.

Well, that’s certainly not irrational.

These people also feared dentists and hygienists (as a source of pain or doing unnecessary work), feared drug reactions, and feared “something going wrong.”

Virtually everyone with a fear of flying has seen photographs of godawful plane crashes, terrified at the thought of being five miles up in the air in a gasoline can with wings (though, statistically, driving is riskier).

Drug-free anxiety relief with ear acupuncture
If any of the above applies to you, and you’re not needle-phobic, you might consider ear acupuncture instead of drugs for your next dental work or flight. One recent research paper out of the Medical University of Vienna (Freud went there, by the way) showed a dramatic reduction in anxiety when ear acupuncture was performed the same day as the dental visit.

The ear as a site for acupuncture is one of the so-called microsystems of Chinese medicine, where an outline of all body parts and internal organs appears in one small area of the body. Other microsystems are the surfaces of the hands and feet, the back, and the scalp. One advantage of microsystem acupuncture is that the needles used are extremely small and barely felt.

After treatment, many practitioners tape very tiny metal beads to the same ear acupuncture points they’ve activated during the session. Simply pressing the bead between your thumb and forefinger is enough to replicate the needle’s action on your meridians and extend the clinical effect of your treatment. Later, you can cheerfully explain to your dentist/flight attendant/fellow passenger why you keep squeezing your ear, yawn a couple of times, and doze off.

Another advantage of ear acupuncture is the DIY component. Instead of Xanax, you can keep a tiny vial of beads in your medicine cabinet. No more of that vaguely guilty feeling you get when pill-popping, no more Xanax side effects (and there are more than a few). Just place a bead on a piece of tape and press it firmly on your ear point. In the long run– and this is the real advantage of using ear acupuncture–you’ll feel the emotional baggage of your dental visit or cross-country flight begin to lessen.

Ultimately, you’ll need neither Xanax nor the bead.

All the traditional Chinese medicine practitioners at WholeHealth Chicago are familiar with ear acupuncture for dental and flight anxieties. Since these treatments can be performed while you sit in a chair and don’t require any extensive diagnostic evaluation, if you want to try this on the way to your dentist or the airport, just call ahead to make sure we have a practitioner in the office.

You’ll be treated between scheduled patients, sit in a recliner for 15 to 20 minutes with the tiny needles in your ears, reading your book and sipping some herbal tea (or BYO Starbuck’s), and you’ll leave with some beads taped into place, all for just $25.

Unlike Xanax, you’ll be completely awake and alert, with no interference in whatever activity you’ve planned for later that day, like maybe your skydiving lesson.

Be well,

David Edelberg, MD

Leave a Comment


  1. Linda Silbert says:

    Hi!
    This health tip was written for me. I am crazy fearful of flying but I fly anyway with my “hidden” stash of Xanax. This has been working for me so far but the “beads on the ears” is intriguing.
    Have any testimonials?
    Thanks.
    Linda

  2. Addie says:

    Sometimes what Szaz would call “over diagnoses” seem like euphemisms for something more serious. I know someone who claimed to have “Seasonal Affective Disorder” but was clearly depressed all year. I thought she didn’t want to admit to something as serious as chronic depression. Another case was my cousin, an aging woman who really does have phobias, diagnosed by her doctor with an ailment in Latin that means “allergic to winter.” It sounded to me like Seasonal Affective Disorder, but my cousin assured me it itsn’t. It’s a real allergy to the season itself. Huh?

  3. Lindy_Hopping says:

    Good idea!

  4. Phoebe Monroe says:

    I moved to Mexico, where I can get in to see the psychiatrist the next day. One can work on fear of flying using acupuncture on the way down and getting dental work done at a reasonable rate (which I could not afford up North) all at the same time. My dentist, a woman, actually greets me with a hug and a kiss on the cheek! Things are different down here!

  5. Nabih Moussa says:

    Hi I just read your page about ear acupuncture for fear of flying. I’m a Sydney(Australia) based acupuncturist and had a recent enquiry regarding the benefits of acupuncture for anxiety and flying. I was hoping you may share your experience with me and recommend some useful points.
    Regards
    Nabih

  6. Cindy Kudelka says:

    Hi Nabih.
    There are a few different auricular point prescriptions you could use. One method is using the NADA protocol (shen men, lung, kidney, sympathetic, liver, kidney) since it treats various types of anxieties. When treating patients, I usually try to get more of a background of what he/she experiences so that the point prescription is more effective. I highly recommend the book “Auriculotherapy Manuel” by Terry Oleson for more specific auricular point prescriptions. It if one of the more detailed books on the subject I have come across. I hope this helps. Good luck.
    Cindy
    Cindy

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, delicious and time-saving recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

BIRTHDAY

Health Tips

Dr. Edelberg’s Health Tips contain concise bits of advice, medical news, nutritional supplement and pharmaceutical updates, and stress relief ideas. With every Health Tip, you’ll also receive an easy, delicious, and healthful recipe.

When you sign up to receive Health Tips, you can look forward to Dr. Edelberg’s smart and very current observations arriving in your in-box weekly. They’re packed with helpful information and are often slightly irreverent. One of the most common responses to the tips is “I wish my doctor talked to me like this!”

Quick Connect

Get One Click Access to our

patient-portal

The Knowledge Base

Patient education is an integral part of our practice. Here you will find a comprehensive collection of staff articles, descriptions of therapies and nutritional supplements, information addressing your health concerns, and the latest research on nutritional supplements and alternative therapies.

Join our Newsletter

Get health recommendations, recipes, medical news, supplement reviews, birthday discounts, and more!

Upcoming Workshops

**Pain Relief with Myofascial Balls
Tuesday, October 29, 6-8pm
With Renee Zambo, C-IAYT Yoga Therapist

Course Fee: $65.00
(includes WholeHealth Chicago Myofascial Release Kit, $40 value)

Does that same spot in your neck, shoulders, back or hips seem to bother you every day? Do you have joint aches and pains in the hands and feet? Would you like to learn ways to alleviate that pain and tension?

Join WholeHealth Chicago’s Yoga and Movement Therapist Renee Zambo for an evening of muscle tension release with myofascial therapy balls.

Space is limited and registration is required.
Please register online.
Call the Center for additional information at (773) 296-6700
More>>

Recent Health Tips

  • Dandruff, Fungi, and Cancer of the Pancreas

    It’s an eye-catching title, I’ll admit. But the links are quite real and further research may guide medicine in new directions of cancer prevention and treatment. It all starts in your gut microbiome, the totality of microorganisms–bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi–present in your gastrointestinal (GI) tract, mouth to anus. Until recently, researchers and clinical physicians alike paid virtually no attention to the microbiome and the Read More

  • New Hope For Sinus Sufferers

    When osteopath Dr. Rob Ivker moved to Colorado in the 1980s to set up his family practice, he had no idea that when he stepped off the plane he’d succumb to symptoms of chronic sinusitis that just wouldn’t go away: stuffy nose, thick mucus, pressure behind his cheekbones and above his eyebrows, dull aching headache, and thick goopy drainage in the back of his throat. Read More

  • Director of IV Therapies Katie McManigal, BSN, ANP

    Most people at some point in their lives have had an intravenous (IV) line. An adept nurse warned you about the tiny pinch of the needle as it was smoothly inserted and taped in place.  Then the  fluid dangling above your head slowly started making its way through a tube and into your body. IVs are all over the place in hospitals. They’re seen in Read More

October Sale – Save 20% off UltraMeal Rice

UltraMeal RICE is a tasty, non-dairy, nutritionally fortified, powdered meal replacement for those who want to support healthy body composition but may be sensitive to soy.

Click here to take advantage of this month’s promotion!