When it comes to complementary medicine, acupuncture is often the first therapy people think of. After all, traditional Chinese acupuncture has a long and rich history – 2500 years, in fact.
Yet despite the test of time, the US has been slow to accept its benefits.
Those benefits certainly have a role to play in dental care, spelled out nicely in a 2014 literature review in the journal Medical Acupuncture.
Focusing on systematic reviews and research articles written in English, researchers plugged in key words specific to dentistry: acupuncture in dentistry, myofacial pain, temporomandibular disorders, xerostomia, dental pain and gag reflex.
As you may know, this Eastern practice uses specific points on the body’s energy highway – the meridian system – to stimulate the nervous system. This stimulation changes the way the nervous system processes pain signals and encourages the body to release its own painkillers, namely serotonin and endorphins.
And while technically, acupuncture means to “puncture with a needle,” stimulation can be achieved using a variety of techniques – for instance, moxibustion, electroacupuncture, acupressure, cupping, or microsystem acupuncture.
Whatever the technique, research shows that such stimulation
- Normalizes physiologic functions.
- Eases pain.
- Modulates the limbic-para-limbic-neocortical network.
- Increases local microcirculation.
- Protects the body from infections.
Back in 1979, the World Health Organization endorsed acupuncture to treat just 43 symptoms. Less than two decades later, that list expanded to 64. By 2003, controlled trials had shown acupuncture to be effective in treating a number of dental conditions, including
- Dental pain.
- Dental anxiety and gag reflex.
- TMJ clicking and locking.
- Chronic muscle pain or spasm.
- Atypical facial pain.
- Dry mouth.
- Nerve pain.
“In dentistry,” write the authors of the review,
the ability of acupuncture has been proven for managing various chronic orofacial disorders. There are numerous reports of randomized controlled trials on the analgesic effect of acupuncture for postoperative pain caused by various dental procedures and by other chronic disorders. According to the literature, acupuncture is more effective than a placebo or sham acupuncture.
Of course, as they say, more studies still need to be done. But we think it’s a good bet that, as an adjunct to good dental care, acupuncture offers promise as a nontoxic, safe alternative for treating dental symptoms with few, if any, side effects.
Image by Elizabeth Briel