In the days of the cord-driven slow hand piece, the late George Fairfull-Smith used a beautiful technique in which he would attach pieces of cotton wool to the drive cord and gently gets the little child to concentrate on watching “the wee foxy-woxy chasing the little bunny rabbit.” Lulled by Fairfull-Smith’s gentle Scottish burr, the child would enter a trance state in which the dental work would be tenderly carried out.

Describing how he goes about filling a tooth in a school-age child using hypnosis as the sole anesthetic, Dr Fairfull-Smith told us about his patient Jane, who had a deeply decayed tooth to be drilled and filled. In front of Jane is a long cord belt that rolls around and around on small pulleys to activate the drill. After he has established a lighthearted mood, Dr Fairfull-Smith places two bits of white cotton on the belt as it moves in its course, and then introduces an imaginative story: “Watch the two bunnies going round and round. Do you see them?” Jane’s eyes fixate in the rabbits. “Pretty soon you will see a naughty fox chasing them” (this is entirely hallucinated, with no cotton as prop) “When you see a naughty fox chasing them, your hand and arm will get very light like a feather and your mouth will open.” After a few complete turns of the belt, the hand and the arm rise, the mouth opens. “Now I’m going to use the vacuum on the tooth. It’s a tickly machine. I’m going to tickle your tooth…it will make your nose very itchy and you’ll laugh.” By this time, Dr Fairfull-Smith is drilling and he says the children never notice, even though a nerve has been touched. Once the tooth was sufficiently drilled, the hole in the tooth was incorporated in the story as the hiding place for the bunnies after they had escaped from the fox – a hiding place whose entrance Dr Fairfull-Smith then closed with a filling. The procedure ended, Jane hopped out of the chair still smiling.

The attentive focus on the bits of cotton moving with the belt serves to accomplish eye fixation which is followed by suggestions of arm levitation and mouth opening. The bunnies are hallucinated by using cotton as a prop, and the fox hallucinated without props. Jane’s eyes fixated but never closed, a familiar feature of hypnosis in young children. With mood always pleasant and attention focused outward, any pain Jane might have felt was dissociated or converted by suggestion to tickling in the tooth or itching in the nose.

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