Dental anxiety affects up to an estimated 30% of the adult population in countries worldwide. Patients can experience nausea, difficulty breathing and dizziness at the thought of going to the dentist, during an examination, and following treatment.
Reasons behind dental anxiety can be various, such as fear of pain, needles or anaesthetic side effects, as well as embarrassment or feeling a loss of control.
In a review of six trials with 800 patients, researchers used a point scale to measure anxiety and found that anxiety reduced by eight points when dental patients were given acupuncture as a treatment.
Previous clinical trials have involved acupuncture for treatment on a range of conditions, including lower back pain, depression, and irritable bowel syndrome. There is, however, limited research detailing its impact on specific cases of anxiety.
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, and six trials were eligible for review, with two demonstrating high-quality methods.
Hugh MacPherson, Professor of Acupuncture, said: "There is increasing scientific interest in the effectiveness of acupuncture either as a standalone treatment or as an accompanying treatment to more traditional medications.
"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."
Studies that compared anxiety levels between patients that received acupuncture and those that did not, showed a significant difference in anxiety scores during dental treatment. A clinically relevant reduction in anxiety was found when acupuncture was compared with not receiving acupuncture.
No conclusions could be drawn, however, between patients that received acupuncture as an intervention and those that received placebo treatment, suggesting that larger scale controlled trials are needed to increase the robustness of the findings.
The research is published in the European Journal of Integrative Medicine. (ANI)