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Acupuncture May Provide Relief from Dry Mouth


Acupuncture is allowing some patients to relieve or significantly reduce dry mouth's debilitating effects, according to a report in the May/June 2005 issue of General Dentistry, the Academy of General Dentistry's (AGD) clinical, peer-reviewed journal.


Dry mouth (also known as xerostomia) is a painful condition caused by a decrease in the amount of saliva in the mouth when salivary glands do not work properly. Saliva is a natural defense for teeth and plays a major role in preventing tooth decay by rinsing away food particles and neutralizing harmful acids.


A decrease in saliva puts patients at risk for cavities, gum disease, and discomfort, since foods that are consumed adhere to the teeth longer. Dry mouth can be caused by medications such as antihistamines, antidepressants, and diuretics and can often be treated by the dentist.


The quality of life of patients suffering from dry mouth is often profoundly impaired. Symptoms include extensive dental decay; infections of the tissues of the mouth; difficulty in speaking, eating, and swallowing; ulceration or soreness of the mouth; an altered sense of taste; and difficulty in wearing dentures.


"Typical treatment options for dry mouth have been short-term at best," according to Warren M. Morganstein, DDS, MPH, an associate dean at the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, University of Maryland Dental School. "Studies have found that acupuncture is a viable option to successfully treat dry-mouth pain in patients and provide long-term relief."


After undergoing head and neck radiation therapy, seven patients with dry mouth were treated using acupuncture. Patients were seen once a week for four to five weeks, followed by two or three biweekly sessions.


Dr. Morganstein found that eight months after treatment, all patients reported a reduction in dry-mouth symptoms, as well as an increase in saliva flow and the ability to eat and speak and improved sleep.


In the United States, acupuncture is performed primarily by licensed, non-physician acupuncturists. Additionally, physicians and a small number of dentists have been trained in medical acupuncture. Acupuncture is effective in increasing the amount of saliva and, by doing so, alleviating or decreasing the symptoms of dry mouth.


To ease dry mouth:

  • Brush and floss twice a day
  • Chew sugar-free gum
  • Avoid alcohol and caffeine
  • Avoid smoking
  • Avoid overly salty foods
  • Drink plenty of water
  • Avoid acidic juices (i.e., tomato, orange, grapefruit)
  • Avoid dry foods, such as toast or crackers
  • Use over-the-counter moisture replacement therapies
  • Visit your dentist regularly

Reviewed: January 2012