Eastern medicine may be finding its way into the dental office and for good reason. An increasing number of studies are beginning to support that acupuncture may prove to be helpful for dental patients to treat various conditions ranging from xerostomia (dry mouth) after chemoradiation therapy to orofacial pain to nausea and dental phobia.
What is acupuncture?
One of the oldest forms of chinese medicine, acupuncture is believed to have started as early as 100 BC. This eastern medicine consists of inserting thin needles into the acupuncture points which are located close to nerve fibers in muscles, and it is believed that acupuncture actually stimulates these fibers thus sending synapses to the spinal cord activating a sensory response. Essentially, acupuncture encourages the release of endorphins, serotonin, and a variety of neurotransmitters that all play a role in the reduction of pain, stress, and anxiety.
Acupuncture may help relieve pain including orofacial pain and TMD related symptoms (jaw pain and pain uponing opening of the mouth). Additionally, some studies indicate that acupuncture may help improve symptoms associated with burning mouth syndrome.
There are several studies that indicate that acupuncture after head and neck radiation therapy may help alleviate and improve the xerostomia (dry mouth) in patients. A recent study at MD Anderson reported significant improvements in salivary flow in patients who had completed radiation therapy to the head and neck four weeks prior. Traditionally, it is recommended that this treatment is performed after radiation therapy has been completed. There are some studies that even suggest acupuncture as a preventative measure during radiation therapy to the head and neck to help reduce the severity of xerostomia; however, these studies are limited, and more research in this field is needed.
Does acupuncture always work?
No, but there are several studies evincing its validity. Of course, there is no one treatment that works for every patient. Nonetheless, it is also important to understand that several treatments of acupuncture may be necessary before noticing its positive effects.
What's the bottomline?
Acupuncture may be helpful for some patients to allievate orofacial pain and dry mouth. Nonetheless, every patient is unique and thus so is their treatment which is extremely important to consider.