Research links treatment of dry mouth and acupuncture in cancer patients

By - Bad Breath Expert

SUMMARY:  Recent research has found that radiation therapy that leads to dry mouth can be alleviated with acupuncture.

Posted: November 13, 2012

cancer treatment dry mouth

There are many reasons why an individual may be experiencing a dry mouth. Experts believe that hundreds of medications, including several over-the-counter drugs, are known to cause an individual to lose saliva production in the mouth, which often leads to many other issues. Other causes include nerve damage to the head or neck and tobacco use.

It’s a very uncomfortable feeling to have a dried out mouth because it can be difficult to swallow, you may not be able to taste food properly and you may have a dry, sticky feeling in the mouth. Not only do all of these symptoms leave an individual feeling uncomfortable, the ailment can lead to bad breath and other oral health issues. When it comes to your mouth, the snowball effect is very prevalent! One issue can lead to another, but having good oral hygiene can help subdue symptoms and prevent any other problems.

However, there are some cases where dry mouth isn’t caused by bad oral health care. Cancer treatment is linked to chronic dry mouth, especially in individuals that have gone in for radiation for head and neck cancer, according to Reuters Health. Recent research found that acupuncture helped improve some symptoms of dry mouth including sticky saliva and dry lips after eight weeks of treatment. The study included 145 patients from seven cancer centers in the United Kingdom who were suffering from chronic dry mouth after radiation. All of the patients who were included in the study had been out of radiation treatment for more than a year and a half. Some researchers were unsure if the treatment was the main cause of improved symptoms, or if patients were under the placebo effect.

"The medical implications are quite profound in terms of quality of life, because while chronic dry mouth may sound benign, it has a significant impact on sleeping, eating and speaking," the researcher of that study Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., director of MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Program, said in a statement to The Huffington Post. "Without saliva, there can be an increase in microbial growth, possible bone infection and irreversible nutritional deficits."

This study was done to determine other treatments for dry mouth, because currently the only medication available, Salagen (pilocarpine), comes with additional side effects. This is why people are turning to alternative forms of treatment such as acupuncture for its non-invasive procedure.

Patients also reported improvement in sticky saliva, needing to sip water to swallow foods and severe dry mouth. The research also included an hour-long education session about oral care once a month. The first group attended acupuncture sessions while the other group went to the training, and after four weeks the groups traded places.

At the end of the acupuncture sessions, participants were between 1.65 and 2.08 times more likely to report improvement of symptoms of dry mouth. Researchers gathered information that included the decrease in amount of times a person had to get up at night for a drink of water. Roughly one-quarter of the patients reported improvements.

In cases of dry mouth, people ended up suffering from bad breath because there is not enough saliva to keep the mouth moist and help flush down food. Similarly, suffering from dry mouth may lead to other oral health issues such as tooth decay and gum disease. There are other options for people who suffer from these mouth issues, such as specialty toothpastes and mouthwashes, but people using these treatments must be sure they do not contain alcohol. 

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