Acupuncture 'can ease fear of dentists'

People who are terrified of the dentist could be helped by acupuncture, research published today suggests.

Five minutes of acupuncture treatment in the top of the head cuts anxiety levels by more than half, the small study on 20 patients found.

Sixteen men and four women with an average age of 40 took part in the research, published in the journal Acupuncture in Medicine.

All had suffered from fear of the dentist for between two and 30 years.

On previous dental visits, three patients had needed general anaesthetic to cope with their fears while six others had required sedatives.

In 14 cases, treatment had to be cancelled because the patient could not go through with it.

The patients came from eight different dental practices in the UK and received the acupuncture from their dentists, who are all members of the British Dental Acupuncture Society.

They had acupuncture needles inserted into their heads at acupuncture points GV20 and EX6, which have been reported to aid relaxation.

Using a well-known anxiety reporting scheme, the Beck Anxiety Inventory (BAI), the patients' levels of distress were measured.

Typically, scores fell from 26.5 to 11.5 after acupuncture and all 20 patients were able to undergo treatment.

Some one in 20 members of the public have extreme anxiety when visiting the dentist while another 20% to 30% report moderate dental anxiety, the researchers said.

The authors, from Sheffield and Denmark, said more studies were needed but concluded: "Acupuncture prior to dental treatment has a beneficial effect on the level of anxiety in patients with dental anxiety and may offer a simple and inexpensive method of treatment."