Acupuncture can calm highly anxious dental patients and ensure they can receive the treatment they need, suggests a small study published in Acupuncture in Medicine.
A visit to the dentist provokes extreme fear and anxiety in an estimated one in 20 people, and that fear can put them off going altogether, a condition termed odontophobia. Up to a third of patients report moderate anxiety at the prospect of dental treatment, studies show.
The study's researchers base their findings on 16 women and four men from eight dental practice lists. Each of the patients was moderately or extremely anxious about going to the dentist for treatment, as assessed by a validated questionnaire, the Back Anxiety Inventory (BAI). All participants were in their 40s and had been trying to deal with this problem for between two and 30 years.
The BAI score was assessed before and after five minutes of acupuncture treatment, which targeted two specific acupuncture points (GV20 and EX6) on the top of the head. The acupuncture was carried out by the dentists themselves, all of whom are members of the British Dental Acupuncture Society.
The average BAI score of 26.5 fell to 11.5, and all 20 patients were able to undergo their planned treatment. Before the acupuncture, only six participants had been able to receive treatment--and then only partially and after a great deal of effort on the part of both the dentist and patient.
The authors point out that several attempts have been made to conquer this type of anxiety, including sedatives, relaxation techniques, behavioral therapies, biofeedback and hypnosis. The research indicates these techniques do help, but they are time-consuming and require considerable levels of psychotherapeutic skills, if applied properly.
They caution that larger studies are needed to confirm the value of acupuncture in these sorts of cases. They do, though, suggest acupuncture "may offer a simple and inexpensive method of treatment."