While many patients approach the process of dental implant treatment with minimal or no anxiety, some patients may feel a sense of worry and even dread. The reasons for this anxiety can include fear of needles, “going under” from general anesthesia or the fear of experiencing pain and discomfort. Many of these symptoms are common for anyone who is approaching a medical or dental procedure. This is called anticipatory anxiety.
Developing coping strategies for anticipatory anxiety can be critical in creating a more comfortable and even positive experience as a part of having a dental implant procedure. Here are some strategies to consider:
1) Ask as many questions of your prosthodontist and the staff as you need to prior to agreeing to the procedure. Feeling informed and educated can be very important in decreasing any fears or anxiety. Examples of possible questions include asking what exactly will be done and how long will each step of the dental implant process take. Discussing the options for pain management and discomfort during and after the procedures can be important.
2) Try to understand your own anxiety. Psychological research has shown that people who take time to reflect on their own fears can prevent the anxiety from taking place. Ask yourself what is the worst fear I have as I think about having a dental implant? Speaking about your concerns with your prosthodontist and his or her staff can help prepare you and the dental team for your upcoming procedure. If you have a history of anxiety it is important to let the doctor know about it. The doctor or the staff can answer questions and alleviate some of your fears.
3) Once you have a more clear understanding of what you are fearful of try to have a conversation with yourself to help calm yourself. These inner conversations are normal and are like having a self-coach who is reassuring and encouraging. It can also be helpful to speak with a mental health professional about your fears if needed.
4) Practicing relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing has been shown to lower heart rate, blood pressure and symptoms of anxiety. Once you experience the ability to relax, you can approach your dental implant procedure with improved confidence. It is easy to learn deep breathing or diaphragmatic breathing.
Start by finding a comfortable chair, couch or bed to sit or lie on. Place your hand on your belly and take a deep breath. As you breathe in imagine that your lungs are like a balloon, a three dimensional object that can inflate both outward and upward. As you breathe in you will feel your hand on your belly rise up slowly. That is your lungs expanding and is the signal that you are breathing more deeply. Once you have taken in a full breath hold it for a few seconds and notice the fullness of your breath and then slowly begin to release that breath. Feel the letting go of the breath and let it all the way out. Then take another full deep breath and hold that as well. Repeat the deep breathing a third time. Then continue to breathe normally. Listening to calm music can be helpful during your relaxation exercise. As you continue to breathe you can choose to take a deeper more full breath anytime that you wish.
5) You can also begin to focus in your mind’s eye on a safe and positive place. Perhaps a place that you have been to before or that you would like to go to or have seen in a movie. This part of the relaxation exercise is called visualization or imagery. The safe place should include all of the senses. Ask yourself what you see in the place. What is there and who are you with or are you alone. What sounds are a part of this place and what is the temperature there? Is it warm or cold? What does it smell like in your safe place? Perhaps the smell of the beach or water or of trees or flowers?
6) You can also try to imagine a gentle wave of relaxation starting at the top of your head and gently moving downward into your forehead and eyes and then into your jaw muscles and chin. This gentle wave of relaxation can continue downward through your whole body until it reaches the tip of your toes.
Practicing each of these relaxation exercises twice per day can help to decrease anxiety and increase a sense of self-confidence. You can look at these exercises as tools that you can use, even during your dental implant procedures. There is always the option of medication to cope with anxiety and that option should be discussed with your doctor in advance of the implant. The relaxation strategies described above can often preclude the need for medication and should be tried prior to utilizing anti-anxiety medicine. These strategies can help to make the process of dental implants go more smoothly.
Daniel A. Schwarz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwarz is a Licensed Psychologist who has been in private practice in the Philadelphia area since 1988 providing treatment for a wide range of emotional and behavioral issues.