Simple acupuncture treatment can be administered to points on the ear. [Photo: Bigstock]

Fear of the dentist? Try acupuncture

2 May, 2018

Natural Health News — Regular dental check-ups are important for our overall health. But fear of the dentist can prevent many people from going to the dentist.

Dental anxiety affects up to an estimated 30% of the adult population in countries world-wide. Patients can experience nausea, difficulty breathing and dizziness at the thought of going to the dentist, during an examination, and following treatment.

Reasons behind dental anxiety can be various, such as fear of pain, needles or anaesthetic side effects, as well as embarrassment or feeling a loss of control.

Now researchers have found evidence that acupuncture could help people who experience dental anxiety.

Previous clinical trials have involved acupuncture for treatment on a range of conditions, including lower back pain, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome. There is, however, limited research detailing its impact on specific cases of anxiety.

Quick summary

» Dental anxiety affects up to an estimated 30% of the adult population in countries world-wide.

» A meta-analysis of studies looking at acupuncture as a way to address dental anxiety has shown it could help ease fear of going to the dentist.

» Those receiving acupuncture were significantly less anxious then controls – though only marginally less anxious than those receiving a sham treatment.

Assessing the evidence

The study team identified than 120 trials across England, China, Spain, Portugal and Germany were identified as having investigated the effects of acupuncture on patients with dental anxiety, but the six selected for review were considered to be of particularity high quality.

In a review of these trials, which included 800 patients, researchers used a points scale to measure anxiety and studies show that anxiety reduced by eight points when dental patients were given acupuncture as a treatment. This level of reduction is considered to be clinically relevant, which means that acupuncture could be a possibility for tackling dental anxiety.

Lead author, Professor of Acupuncture, Hugh MacPherson, at the University of York’s Department of Health Sciences, said: “There is increasing scientific interest in the effectiveness of acupuncture either as a standalone treatment or as an accompanying treatment to more traditional medications.

Studies that compared anxiety levels between patients that received auricular (on the ear) acupuncture and those that did not, showed a significant difference in anxiety scores during dental treatment. A clinically relevant reduction in anxiety was found when acupuncture was compared with not receiving acupuncture.

There was only a very small difference between patients that received acupuncture as an intervention and those that received placebo treatment.

Positive findings

Professor MacPherson notes: “These are interesting findings, but we need more trials that measure the impact of acupuncture on anxiety before going to the dentist, during treatment and after treatment.

“If acupuncture is to be integrated into dental practices, or for use in other cases of extreme anxiety, then there needs to be more high quality research that demonstrates that it can have a lasting impact on the patient. Early indications look positive, but there is still more work to be done.”

The research is published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine.