According to the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, 22 percent of adults reported some form of oral-facial pain in the past 6 months and employed adults lose more than 164 million hours of work each year due to dental disease or dental visits.
In addition, the American Academy of Family Physicians reported that in 1996 (the most recent study available), American students missed 1,611,000 school days because of acute dental problems.
These are sobering statistics that demonstrate the need for pain relief.
What Is Toothache?: The British Acupuncture Council explains what constitutes tooth pain or toothache:
“There are various levels of toothache ranging from occasional discomfort caused by early tooth decay, or periodontal (gum) disease, to the more severe, constant pain caused by advanced tooth decay and dental abscesses. Pain is defined as ‘an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience.’ Pain is also a subjective experience. Acute pain is associated with a brief period of tissue injury (a cut) or inflammation. During a dental procedure, the pain experienced can be due to tissue and nerve damage, but it may also be caused or increased by anxiety.”
Indeed, there are many levels and many causes of toothache, the most common of which include tooth decay (such as cavities), dental injury, abscesses and teething.
Often, a corollary problem is gingivitis, a condition most often caused by food particles becoming trapped between the gums and the teeth for extended periods of time. Gingivitis can also be caused by vitamin deficiencies, improperly filled cavities, or poorly fitted dentures. Although gingivitis can often be avoided by proper brushing and flossing, when it occurs it often presents itself through red and sore gums, as well as bad breath.
Can Acupuncture Help?: According to UC San Diego Center for Integrative Medicine, “Case-controlled clinical studies have shown that acupuncture has been an effective treatment for … pain in dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction).”
Specifically, the British Acupuncture Council states: “Evidence from case series suggests that acupuncture can reduce dental anxiety (Rosted 2010) and the gagging reflex (Rosted 2006), and that electroacupuncture can control post-operative pain after wisdom tooth extraction (Tarares 2007).”
It is important to note that although acupuncture is often able to relieve the painful symptoms of a toothache, you must also work in conjunction with your dental provider to address the cause of the problem. Contact your dentist immediately when you become aware of a constant pain (whether dull or severe), particularly if it is accompanied by bleeding or swollen gums. The longer you wait, the greater your chance of increased dental damage.
Following treatment by your dentist, you might experience residual pain, particularly after a tooth extraction. This is often because of residual tooth decay, damage or injury to the area, and poorly aligned wisdom teeth.
What Happens at the Acupuncture Appointment?: In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), tooth pain is believed to be caused by a stagnation of circulation between certain meridian (energy) points. The stagnation of energy in the body and the mouth creates heat toxins that cause swelling of the gums. At Acupuncture Associates in Wilmington, NC, we will typically target the stomach and intestinal meridians because of their direct course to the upper and lower gums. The session will focus on increasing circulation and detoxifying the problem areas of the mouth. If gingivitis is also an issue, acupuncture will not only increase the energy between appropriate meridians, but also boost immunity from infection, which is a leading cause of gingivitis.
Prevention is Key: As we head into the holiday season with a veritable parade of candy, sweet treats, and desserts between Halloween and New Year’s Eve, it is critical to make sure that you and your family, particularly young children, are following the basic tenets of good oral hygiene.
Of course, despite our best efforts, we sometimes experience cavities, abscesses and mouth injuries that require a trip to the dentist. If you end up having dental work done, remember that acupuncture can help relieve the pain and swelling associated with toothache and extraction. And, if you live in or around Wilmington, NC, Robert at Acupuncture Associates on Masonboro Loop Road is here to help.