Dental Care

Dental Acupuncture Outside the Mouth

 

Why dental acupuncture? Are you someone who becomes anxious just thinking about visiting your dentist? 

If so, you're one of millions of people.  For many, an appointment with the dentist - even for something as simple as a routine teeth cleaning - creates more stress and anxiety than just about anything.

Or maybe your strong gag reflex causes you to start gagging uncontrollably whenever a dental instrument is inserted into your mouth. 

Naturally, this makes it difficult for your dentist to perform even simple dental procedures, and it's highly uncomfortable for you.

Either way, you might be very interested to learn that we're discovering more uses for acupuncture than relieving the pain caused by headaches, backaches, tennis elbow and so on. 

Some dentists are now beginning to use this traditional Chinese therapy to reduce their patients' anxiety and gagging, and they are achieving very promising (although preliminary) results.  This form of acupuncture is performed by placing needles or other acupuncture instruments in locations outside of the mouth, such as in a specific point on the ear.

Another Type of  Acupuncture

A very different type of dental acupuncture also exists.  This second type involves the placement of acupuncture needles or other stimuli in specific areas inside the mouth. 

Several research studies seem to support claims that acupuncture is an effective mechanism for reducing facial pain and improving temporomandibular joint disorder or dysfunction (TMJ or TMD). 

But this type of acupuncture is used to enhance a patient's health, not alleviate dental fear or gagging.  To avoid confusion, we'll discuss this other type of acupuncture in a separate article elsewhere on this site. 

This article will address the type of dental acupuncture outside the mouth, specifically intended to give patients a better experience during their dental treatments by reducing their fear and/or pronounced gag reflex.

How Does it Work?

Let's first discuss how acupuncture can be used to ease a patient's dental anxiety.

It's been estimated that five percent of the population - one out of every twenty people - experiences extreme fear and anxiety when visiting the dentist. 

This condition is called odontophobia, and it causes many people to forego dental treatment entirely.  And one-third of all dental patients experience moderate anxiety levels - not enough to prevent them from going to the dentist, but more than enough to make them feel a significant amount of distress. 

British research indicates that dental acupuncture can calm the nerves of fearful patients, making it much easier for them to receive the dental treatment they need. 

Although these findings are based on only 20 patients, all 20 were able to carry through with their dental treatment after receiving acupuncture from their dentists - something which had previously been difficult if not impossible for almost all of them.  All 20 patients had been trying to overcome their dental fear for between 2 and 30 years.

Each patient's anxiety level was assessed twice by the Beck Anxiety Inventory test, once immediately before receiving acupuncture and again immediately afterward. 

The pre-acupuncture Beck scores showed that all 20 of the study's patients were suffering from moderate or extreme anxiety about dental treatment.  However, after five minutes of acupuncture, their anxiety levels dropped significantly, and each was calm enough to receive the dental treatment he or she needed.

More research is needed to confirm these positive results, but this initial study seems to indicate that preparatory acupuncture might provide a quick, easy, inexpensive way to alleviate dental anxiety. 

It also bypasses the risks associated with chemical sedation, so dental acupuncture offers several advantages over the more traditional techniques used to calm anxious dental patients.

Diminishing the Gagging Reflex

Dental acupuncture may also alleviate the uncontrollable, reflexive gagging experienced by some patients whenever a drill, mirror or other dental instrument is placed in their mouths. 

And some patients are so fearful of dental treatment that even the thought of it causes them to begin gagging.  In the past, both types of patients have been forced to choose between expensive, risky preparatory sedation or general anesthesia and foregoing dental treatment altogether.

Luckily, things might be changing.  British research indicates that preparatory dental acupuncture applied to a specific point on the ear is able to control the gag reflex, allowing dentists to safely and properly treat patients who previously gagged severely. 

Once again, additional research is needed to confirm these results, but dental acupuncture to reduce gagging is extremely inexpensive, does not require much additional time, is relatively non-invasive, and avoids the risks of sedation/general anesthesia.

 

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