A New Approach To Dental Fear: Dr. Washington’s “Coyote Thoughts”
I’m always interested in new thoughts about dental fear and coping mechanisms, since it’s so important for my patients and for potential patients that I hope to meet once they overcome their initial fear of entering our office. This week, I ran into one of the most unique and thought-provoking descriptions I’ve read from the point of view of a patient overcoming his fear published on Indian Country Today, appropriately entitled, “Courage and the Dentist“. I wanted to know more about the author, how he came to find bravery when facing a fear that can be all consuming for some of our patients, and what we could all learn from him. Here’s what I discovered.
The author is a pioneer in the field of Native mental health and suicide prevention.
The author of the article, Beau Washington, gives a name to those overwhelming negative thoughts that lead to fear of the dentist as Trickster thoughts. He specifically names several of them, such as “I hate the dentist,” “it will hurt,” and “I hate the Novocain shot”. Dr. Washington is a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and has developed a model that weaves these stressful, painful, overwhelming thoughts and ruminations to the Native American idea of a Trickster. He changed the psychology term cognitive distortion, which are irrational or overwhelming thought patterns like dental phobias to “coyote thoughts” and set up a Native suicide prevention program for American Indians using the same name.
Trickster thoughts force you to “pay in advance” for a possibly painless procedure.
One of the things Dr. Washington writes that struck me most was how he explains that a Trickster thought is simply forcing the patient to pay in advance for their fear. As he states, “I’m not going to mentally pay for it unless the pain happens”. Most, if not all, dental procedures now are entirely painless, and a topical gel can even numb a patient before Novocain is injected for more serious procedures. Yet, like many things in life, Dr. Washington is correct that we often pay in advance when we worry. Even I’m guilty of it about things that don’t involve the dentist.
Santa Rosa is incredibly fortunate to be home to the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center. If you’d like to learn more California Indian culture and history, visit this non-profit museum or read more about Dr. Washington’s pioneering efforts on Indian Country Today or visit Coyote Thoughts on the Internet.