Dental anxiety affects up to 20% of Americans. But, it’s not just Americans who are affected. Worldwide the estimate for dental anxiety is around 30%. If you are one of these people and especially if you have tried other therapies, acupuncture may help you.
People with a fear of going to the dentist may experience symptoms such as dizziness, breathing problems, nausea, headaches, sleep issues, emotional distress, and other symptoms. Just having the thought of going to the dentist can induce a reaction.
Fear of Going to the Dentist
The reasons behind the fear of going to the dentist are varied:
Some people have had a prior bad experience at the dentist that left strong negative emotions.
Other people fear the pain they think they will encounter. Often this fear of dental pain comes from a previous experience at a dentist. While dentistry has made advances in reducing or eliminating pain, the fear remains for many.
Fear of needles and injections, feeling vulnerable in the dentist chair, and being embarrassed about the condition of their teeth are other reasons people have a fear of the dentist and avoid going to one.
Acupuncture involves the insertion of specifically designed needles into meridian (energy points) in the body to stimulate healing. There are several types of acupuncture, and most states require an acupuncturist to be licensed.
It is one of the branches of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). Acupuncture has been practiced for thousands of years in China. In the last few decades, it has grown in popularity as research shows that it is beneficial to treat several medical conditions or as an auxiliary therapy along with other treatments.
The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Medicine (NCCIH) considers acupuncture a complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) that has been found to be effective in treating treatment chronic pain associated with low-back pain, arthritic knee pain, and neck pain. It’s may also be beneficial for reducing the occurrence of tension headaches and preventing migraines. Acupuncture in other research is suggested as a useful therapy for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and depression.
The 2018 study reviewed data from research conducted on the impact of acupuncture for reducing dental anxiety. The University of York in Great Britain in cooperation with Beijing University of Chinese Medicine assembled and analyzed the data. Of the 129 trials identified as using acupuncture for dental anxiety, six were chosen that had a combined total of 800 patients. The data came from dental anxiety acupuncture trials worldwide including from Spain, China, England, Germany, and Portugal.
The review compared studies that measured levels of anxiety between patients who received acupuncture to those who didn’t. Though, there were no placebo treatment comparisons. The findings showed a significant decrease in anxiety levels between those who received acupuncture and those who did not.
Because there was no placebo treatment, Professor Hugh MacPherson, a Professor of Acupuncture at the University of York said a larger clinical trial need to be done to confirm the finding.
“‘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,’ said professor MacPherson.”[i]
A small study done in 2010 also showed that acupuncture might help reduce dental anxiety. Twenty people from eight dental practices received acupuncture to relax them from acupuncture-trained dentists. It measured anxiety levels based on the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI) before and after treatment. The average score before acupuncture treatment was 26.5 and fell to 11.5 after acupuncture. The volunteers responded so well that they were able to go through with their dental procedures.
While the studies are small, the use of acupuncture to treat dental anxiety shows promise. For people who have a paralyzing fear of going to the dentist, it’s another option.
Acupuncture: In Depth. Retrieved from https://nccih.nih.gov/health/acupuncture/introduction#hed2.
Acupuncture possible treatment for dental anxiety (May 1, 2018). Retrieved from https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2018/research/acupuncture-possible-treatment-for-dental-anxiety/.
Easing Dental Fear in Adults. Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/easing-dental-fear-adults#1.
Hendrick, Bill. Acupuncture Puts Nervous Dental Patients at Ease (March 29, 2010). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/oral-health/news/20100329/acupuncture-relaxes-nervous-dental-patients
[i] University of York, Acupuncture possible treatment for dental anxiety, May 1, 2018. Web.