Acupuncture appears to help relieve severe dry mouth, protecting people from the dental decay, speaking problems and oral ulcers that can accompany the condition, according to a small study.
Eight months after several sessions of acupuncture, seven people with dry mouth said their saliva flow improved, they had fewer symptoms of dry mouth, and had an easier time eating and swallowing.
Study author Dr. Warren M. Morganstein of the University of Maryland Dental School in Baltimore explained that acupuncture could relieve dry mouth in several ways. For instance, the technique could increase blood flow to the salivary glands, improve how they function, or boost levels of chemicals in the body that help with saliva, he noted.
Approximately one-quarter of people do not produce enough saliva, or any saliva at all, a condition known formally as xerostomia, according to the report in General Dentistry. Among adults over 50, nearly 40 percent have xerostomia, which can also cause oral infections, alterations in the sense of taste, and problems speaking, eating and swallowing.
In an interview, Morganstein explained that many cases of dry mouth result from head and neck radiation and some autoimmune diseases, both of which can affect the salivary glands.
Morganstein, who himself performs acupuncture, said that in rare cases, people may develop bleeding, infections, or perforation of the organs after acupuncture.
However, conventional treatments for xerostomia are not without problems. One treatment, pilocarpine, is associated with a number of side effects, including sweating, dizziness, nausea, and visual problems, he noted. Another treatment called amifostine, which people take during radiation therapy to protect the salivary glands, causes severe nausea, he added.