Fear of the dentist keeps many people away from getting the dental care they need, but new research suggests that acupuncture may help.
Anxiety related to dental treatment is a common phenomenon that has a significant impact on the provision of appropriate dental care. The treatments available for dealing with odontophobia such as distraction, relaxation techniques, tranquilisers and sedation, are time-consuming or have side effects.
To examine the effect of acupuncture given prior to dental treatment on the level of anxiety, researchers tested acupuncture on 21patients who had suffered from dental phobia for two to 30 years. Their average age was 40 years, and their anxiety was considered moderate to severe. Their anxiety was checked before and after five minutes of acupuncture and rated, using the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) questionnaire. The acupuncture treatment, which involves inserting thin needles into specific body points, targeted two points on the top of the head.
It was found that the average BAI score of 27 dropped to 12 after the acupuncture session. And all the patients were able to have their dental treatment. Before trying acupuncture, only six patients could withstand any treatment at all, and even at that, just a partial visit that required a great deal of effort by both dentist and patient.
The findings show that acupuncture prior to dental treatment reduces anxiety in patients with dental anxiety and may offer a simple and inexpensive option. These findings could be attributed to the fact that acupuncture helps release endorphins, which act not only as painkillers, but as sedatives and these opiate-like hormones, manufactured in the body, contribute to natural feelings of well-being and modulate anxiety.