Patients with dental anxiety can experience nausea, difficulty breathing, and dizziness at the thought of going to the dentist, during an examination, and following treatment. Acupuncture could help these patients, which include up to approximately 30% of adults worldwide, according to the University of York.
In a review of six trials with 800 patients, researchers used a point scale to measure anxiety. When patients received acupuncture, anxiety decreased by eight points. The researchers consider this reduction to be clinically relevant, meaning acupuncture could be a possible treatment for dental anxiety.
Previous clinical trials have examined acupuncture as a treatment for a range of conditions, including lower back pain, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome. However, there is limited research into its impact on specific cases of anxiety, which, in dentistry, may be triggered by a fear of pain, needles, or anesthetic side effects or by embarrassment or loss of control.
More than 120 trials across England, China, Spain, Portugal, and Germany were identified as having investigated the effects of acupuncture on patients with dental anxiety. Six were eligible for review, with two demonstrating high-quality methods, according to the researchers.
“These is increasing scientific interest in the effectiveness of acupuncture either as a standalone treatment or as an accompanying treatment to more traditional medications. We have recently shown, for example, that acupuncture treatment can boost the effectiveness of standard medical care in chronic pain and depression,” said High MacPherson, PhD, professor of acupuncture at the University of York Department of Health Sciences.
“Chronic pain is often a symptom of a long-term condition, so to further our understanding of the various uses of acupuncture we wanted to see what it could achieve for conditions that occur suddenly, rapidly, and as a reaction to particular experiences,” said MacPherson.
Studies comparing anxiety levels between patients who received acupuncture and those who did not showed a significant difference in anxiety scores during dental treatment, the researchers said. A clinically relevant reduction in anxiety was found when acupuncture was compared with not receiving acupuncture.
No conclusions could be drawn, though, between patients who received acupuncture as an intervention and those who received placebo treatment, suggesting that larger scale controlled trials are needed to increase the robustness of the findings, the researchers said.
“These are interesting findings, but we need more trials that measure the impact of acupuncture on anxiety before going to the dentist, during treatment, and after treatment,” MacPherson said.
“If acupuncture is to be integrated into dental practices, or for us in other cases of extreme anxiety, then there needs to be more high-quality research that demonstrates that it can have a lasting impact on the patient. Early indications look positive, but there is still more work to be done,” MacPherson said.
The study, “Acupuncture for anxiety in dental patients: Systematic review and meta-analysis,” was published by the European Journal of Integrative Medicine.