Patient anxiety or fear of going to the dentist has been one of the predicaments dental practitioners face when providing dental care. One in 20 patients or 5% of patients in the US and Europe have odontophobia, or extreme dental fear, while up to one-third experience some degree of anxiety.
A new study, tested on 20 patients (16 women and 4 men) who have moderate to severe anxiety, found that acupuncture can calm down anxious patients when performed prior to dental treatment.
Using the Back Anxiety Inventory questionnaire, the average BAI score of the patients fell from 26.5 to 11.5. The BAI score was assessed before and after acupuncture treatment using acupuncture points located on top of the head. Acupuncture was administered five minutes before dental treatment.
All 20 patients were able to receive dental treatment after acupuncture was given. Prior to this, dental treatments were only possible in six and only after much effort from the dentist and patient.
The acupuncture was performed by the dentists themselves, who are members of the British Dental Acupuncture Society. The patients were from eight different dental practices.
There have been various techniques to calm down anxious patients before they receive dental treatment, including relaxation techniques, biofeedback, behavioral therapy, hypnosis and sedatives. However, these are time-consuming and need considerable psychotherapeutic skills to be effective. The authors suggest that, although acupuncture still needs to be tested in a larger study, it could offer a simple and inexpensive method of treating dental anxiety.