Acupuncture can calm anxious dental patients, study finds

March 29, 2010 |  4:01 pm

If you’re the type who gets anxious about visiting the dentist, you might think the last thing you’d want would be a bunch of extra needles. Apparently, you’d be wrong.

small study being published in Tuesday’s edition of the journal Acupuncture in Medicine found that dentists who administered acupuncture to their nervous patients succeeded in calming their fears. That allowed all 20 subjects to complete their necessary dental exams and treatment. Without acupuncture, only six of the patients were able to get even partial treatment.

The patients in the study initially scored an average of 26.5 on the Beck Anxiety Index (a score above 26 indicates “severe anxiety”). Five minutes after acupuncture, their average anxiety score dropped to 11.5. The acupuncture focused on two points on the head (GV20 and EX6), and the needles stayed in throughout the patients’ dental procedures.

The researchers, from England and Denmark, noted that 5% of people in Western countries have “pronounced dental anxiety” and an additional 20% to 30% have “moderate dental anxiety.” They pointed out that while such patients can be treated with sedatives, hypnosis, biofeedback and other behavioral therapies, those approaches are “time consuming and demand psychotherapeutic education and skills.”

One might think that considerable education and skill are also needed to administer acupuncture safely and effectively, though the researchers didn’t discuss the training involved.

Apparently, the combination of acupuncture and dental work is still uncommon here in the states. But in the U.K. there is such a thing as the British Dental Acupuncture Society.

— Karen Kaplan

Photo: If this picture gives you the heebie-jeebies, perhaps some acupuncture needles will do the trick. Photo credit: Yang Liu/Corbis