Head and neck cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy often develop chronic xerostomia (dry mouth) as an unfortunate side effect from the treatment. Most dry mouth sufferers increase their dental visits and purchase numerous oral care products in an attempt to alleviate the symptoms, but a new study in the United Kingdom has found that acupuncture can significantly reduce the symptoms of dry mouth after only eight weeks, and the treatment provided a greater benefit than oral care alone.
A team of researchers from the University of Sussex surveyed 109 male and 35 female cancer patients from seven different cancer centers across the UK who received radiation therapy and developed dry mouth within 18 months after treatment. One group of the participants received acupuncture treatments for 20 minutes a session, once a week for eight weeks, and the second group participated in two oral care educational sessions for one hour. After eight weeks, the groups switched treatment for another eight weeks.
After the first eight weeks, the 26 percent of the first acupuncture reported improvement compared to 14 percent reporting improvement from the educational session group. When the groups switched, 24 percent of the acupuncture participants reported improvement, whereas 19 percent reported improvement after the oral care sessions.
The research team does not know exactly what acupuncture does to alleviate the symptoms of dry mouth, but they theorize that acupuncture either stimulates the residual salivary gland tissue or stimulates the blood supply to the glands.
More than 40 percent of head and neck cancer patients who undergo radiation therapy develop dry mouth even five years after their radiation treatments. There is currently no effective treatment to alleviate symptoms of dry mouth, even with sufferers who are not head and neck cancer patients. Plenty of mouthwashes, gels, and toothpaste exist on the market to provide short term relief to dry mouth, but nothing before the acupuncture study has suggested it’s possible to improve dry mouth symptoms.
Obviously, more research will need to be conducted before scientists can confirm anything, but if you are a sufferer of dry mouth, maybe you should consider adding acupuncture to your treatment regimen and see if it works for you. Of course, be sure to talk to your dentist about your dry mouth symptoms before treating it yourself.