March 29, 2010 -- Acupuncture needles stuck into two strategic spots on the head may reduce anxiety levels of highly nervous dental patients, new research indicates.
The needles induce relaxation and reduce fear that all but paralyzes some people facing dental treatments, say researchers from England and Denmark.
In a study published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine, acupuncture treatment was performed in 16 women and four men from eight dental practices. Each of the patients had been rated as moderately or extremely anxious based on a questionnaire scale called the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI).
The BAI scores of the individuals were assessed before and five minutes after acupuncture treatment involving two specific points on the top of the head.
Dentists trained in the use of acupuncture carried out the experiments, and average BAI scores fell to 11.5 from 26.5. The acupuncture treatments worked so well that all 20 people managed to have their dental procedures carried out.
The authors write that about 5% of patients in the U.S. and Europe have severe dental anxiety called odontiatophobia and 20%-30% report moderate anxiety. Several techniques had been used to help patients overcome their fear of dental treatments, such as relaxation therapy, biofeedback, and hypnosis. Those techniques may work, but they are time consuming and require psychotherapeutic skills.
The authors conclude that acupuncture “prior to dental treatment has a beneficial effect on the level of anxiety in patients with dental anxiety and may offer a simple and inexpensive method of treatment.”
However, they say the results need to be tested and validated in a larger trial.