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Acupuncture Improves Dry Mouth Symptoms

Posted Jan 18 2013 9:25am

As long as we’re on the subject of saliva and dry mouth conditions, there’s another recent study that may be of interest to you.

needles According to a paper published last fall in the Annals of Oncology, acupuncture appears effective for relieving dry mouth.

All of the nearly 150 people who participated were cancer patients suffering dry mouth as a result of radiation therapy. Some were given acupuncture; others received oral care education.

Although the researchers found that there were no significant changes in saliva production, patients who had received nine weeks of acupuncture (for 20 minutes every week for eight weeks) were twice as likely to report improved dry mouth than patients receiving oral care [education]. Individual symptoms were also significantly improved among the group receiving acupuncture.

Dr Richard Simcock, consultant clinical oncologist at the Sussex Cancer Centre and one of the authors of the study, said: ‘Time had an important effect on key symptoms, with patients receiving acupuncture showing a quick response, which was sustained over several weeks.’

Among that group, the abstract says, there were significantly fewer reports of severe dry mouth, sticky saliva, needing to sip fluids to swallow and waking up thirsty.

That this occurred despite no significant change in saliva production makes it tempting to chalk it up to the placebo effect. And that, indeed, is one possibility mentioned by the study’s lead author in Reuters’ story about it. Another is that acupuncture might “increase brain activity in ways that affect how patients perceive their dry mouth symptoms.”

Regardless,

even if the placebo effect is largely driving the results, it’s not a reason to dismiss acupuncture, some researchers say.

“Even though we know a portion of acupuncture (benefit) is due to placebo, the patients reported improvements, and at the end of the day the objective… is to improve how people feel,” Lorenzo Cohen, a cancer researcher from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, who wasn’t involved in the new study, told Reuters Health.

(For an interesting look at the placebo effect, see Sharon Begley’s recent Saturday Evening Post essay, “Placebo Power.” )

If dry mouth is a problem for you, do talk with your dentist about it. He or she is in the best position to pinpoint probable causes and provide treatment guidance. For no matter its cause, dry mouth is more than a nuissance. Left untreated, it can make your teeth and gums much more vulnerable to disease and damage.

Image by NetDocktor.de , via Flickr


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