Why do dentists shake your cheek?

Find out why your dentist shakes your cheek (the Cheek Shake Technique), if it's an effective practice, and if there's a better method for pain-free injections.

Many people don’t like going to the dentist because they fear the discomfort and pain that accompanies some procedures. It’s estimated that about 60% of people have anxiety about going to the dentist. Yes, the dentist will give you an anesthetic so that you’re numb for any painful work, but even the injection can be painful and unpleasant.

You may have noticed that when you received a dental injection, the dentist shook your cheek at the same time. If that struck you as strange, you might be surprised to learn that this is a pain management trick!

What is the cheek shake technique?

The cheek shake isn’t necessarily a common practice. Only a handful of dentists use this method, but the ones who do often swear by it. By shaking your cheek, the dentist is giving your brain a distraction from the pain of the anesthesia shot.

Your body has approximately 20 different nerve endings that send messages to the brain. The most common receptors are pain, heat, cold, and pressure (touch) receptors. All of your nerve endings send information to the brain, but not all of these messages are given the same priority.

This is because your body is constantly receiving many different types of nerve ending messages simultaneously. As a result, your body has to prioritize some over others. The receptors for information about pressure, movement, and touch get top priority with your brain. In contrast, the nerve endings transferring information about pain often get “shut out,” and the message doesn’t make it to your central nervous system. This theory is also known as the “Gate Control Theory of Pain.”

When a dentist shakes and squeezes your cheek, they’re sending a massive amount of messages about touch all at once to the brain. The brain receives the pressure signals first, which distracts it from the pain signals caused by the injection.

You’ve probably used this same technique in your everyday life without even realizing it. It’s like when you hit your hand on something and you start shaking it. Our bodies and brains have developed over time to understand this technique and use it to our advantage.

Does the cheek shake work?

So, does the cheek shake technique work? Yes and no. Yes, it works to minimize some of the pain. However, consider our earlier example. When you hit your hand on a corner and you start to shake your hand, does the pain immediately subside? You’re distracted, but the pain is still there for a few minutes. The cheek shake technique works, but it’s not a fool-proof method and doesn’t mean the dental patient won’t notice the injection.

So, is there a better way?

How do you stop the pain from a dental injection?

As is the case with many things today, technology has offered us an alternative to the cheek shake technique that is much more effective. The DentalVibe Comfort Injection System is an FDA-approved device that helps dentists deliver pain-free injections. The DentalVibe is a cordless, rechargeable, handheld device. The creators of DentalVibe took the Gate Control Theory of Pain and developed a machine that would perform the action more effectively. This device delivers pulsing, soothing, and percussive micro-oscillations to the site of the injection.

These mini vibrations, which feel soothing, overwhelm your brain so that it can’t process any feelings of pain. It makes sense that this technique that was slightly effective when performed manually would be more efficient and effective when automated. Just like we have dishwashers to wash our dishes and laundry machines to wash our clothes, machines can perform actions much better than we can manually.

The DentalVibe is effective on both kids and adults, and truly offers a pain-free experience. Patients report not even realizing that the injection was happening. It’s important to note that a DentalVibe is an additional cost to your dentist, but that dentists don’t charge patients for its use. If you find a dentist who uses a DentalVibe, it means they were willing to invest in the device purely for the comfort of their patients. And that is the sign of a dentist that cares!

Ready to make the switch to comfortable dentist appointments that you don’t have to fear? Find a certified pain-free dentist today.

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