Stop Your Tooth-Aching: A Holistic Approach to Treating Oral Pain
Jul 30, 2020 09:28PM
By Pamela Purser
During my years in acupuncture school, I was curious about the effectiveness of acupuncture to ease dental pain. My experience had been that any analgesic left me drowsy for a few days, or with an upset stomach. During one of my regular dental cleanings, the clinician offered topical oral analgesic to relieve minor discomfort. Instead, I applied acupuncture press tack needles on my ear. I felt very relaxed and experienced little to no pain.
A few years later, when I needed a dental filling and again refused analgesics, my clinician was nervous about my decision. But the process went smoothly and the discomfort was tolerable. I felt a numb sensation instead of sharp pain.
According to a study published in The Journal of the American Dental Association (JADA), orofacial pain accounts for 40 percent of chronic pain, affecting 100 million American adults. Acute dental pain is the most common reason people go to the dentist.
Pain is considered a common symptom and is usually treated with conventional therapies. The two groups of drugs used to treat pain are non-narcotic analgesics, including anti-inflammatory steroids, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, e.g., ibuprofen, aspirin, mefenamic acid), and paracetamol (acetaminophen); and narcotics (e.g., tramadol).
An Ancient but Modern Alternative
Acupuncture is an alternative therapy that has been recognized as a treatment for pain. For example, George Maloney, a clinical professor at the Tufts School of Dental Medicine. He is a longtime advocate of using acupuncture over painkillers to treat facial muscle pain related to dental problems.
Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views the gums as an extension of the digestive system, and as a reflection of the condition of the stomach-spleen-pancreas network. Metaphorically, digestion is like a pot of soup sitting on a fire. When the fire blazes uncontrolled, it interferes with digestion, sending excess heat along the stomach meridians. This condition, known as stomach heat or stomatitis, leads to inflammation or infection, resulting in a toothache or bleeding gums. The leading causes of stomach heat are improper diet and lifestyle or emotional stress.
My treatment focus, therefore, consists of nourishing the digestive system, cooling the stomach heat, and educating my patients on proper diet, lifestyle and stress management. While TCM generally emphasizes lightly cooked foods to address stomach heat, raw fruits and vegetables are better because of their cooling nature. Most animal sources of protein are heat producing; they should be replaced with vegetarian protein options.
Approximately 40 percent of our daily diet should consist of easily digested complex carbohydrates, like grains and starchy root vegetables. Another 40 percent should be vegetables. Proteins should make up only 10 to 20 percent of our diet, with a focus on high-quality choices. We should also drink plenty of fluids and avoid excessively oily, spicy or hot dishes.
While I’ve listed some recommended foods in the sidebar on page 27, don’t limit your diet to them. Emphasize rotation. Wherever possible, choose organically grown foods.
The Needle’s Power
In TCM, inserting acupuncture needles into specific locations balances the flow of qi, or vital energy, throughout the body. According to the literature, insertion of an acupuncture needle into a particular acupoint stimulates the peptides and other biochemical signals that cause physiological effects, such as increased blood flow and reduced inflammation and muscle tension.
When a needle is inserted, it causes a specific sensation, De qi. It might be felt as heaviness, numbness, heat, weight or distention around the insertion area, and it can radiate along the path of the meridian belonging to that acupoint. It’s a desired and necessary result of effective acupuncture.
Acupoints for Dental Support
Here are my favorite points for dental support. To find their exact locations, google them by name.
LI4 (He Gu): Located in the back of the hand, this is an essential point of analgesia, especially for easing painful disorders of the face and teeth. As its meridian is strongly associated with the head and face, it is excellent for addressing issues in the oral cavity.
ST44 (Nei Ting): Located in the foot between the second and third metatarsal, this acupoint is indicated for easing toothaches and facial edema. For toothache relief, pairing LI4 and ST44 will bring the best results, as the stomach meridian runs into the upper gum, while the large intestine meridian runs into the lower gum.
SP2 (Da Du): Located on the side of big toe, this acupoint clears heat in the spleen and stomach. Because of its meridian pathway, this acupoint is fabulous for draining congested lymph in the neck area, which can cause face and head pain.
For an at-home acupressure session, massage each point with firm pressure while seated and practicing mindful breathing, inhaling and exhaling on a count of five to ten. Repeat three to six times per day. I should caution you that these acupoints will be very tender if you have existing head, face or dental pain. You should feel immediate relief if you massage the precise location.
The next time you have dental visit, consider talking with your acupuncturist about getting acupuncture press tack needles to ease your anxiety and pain.
Pamela Purser is an acupuncture physician and a licensed acupuncturist, and the clinical director and co-owner of Navarre Acupuncture and Wellness, located at 7287 Navarre Pkwy., Navarre, FL. For more information, visit NavAcuWell.com .
Cooling Off Stomach Heat
Foods for Reducing Stomach Heat
- Grains: rice, millet, barley
- Vegetables: celery, spinach, cucumber, lettuce, daikon radish, asparagus, eggplant, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, alfalfa sprouts, tomatoes, water chestnuts, avocado, arugula, watercress
- Fruit: green apples, pears, watermelon, bananas, kiwis, mango
- Other: tofu, tempeh, yogurt, green tea
What to Restrict or Avoid when Experiencing Stomach Heat
- Seasonings/Spicy Foods: chilies, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, onions, shallots, leeks, basil, cloves, wasabi
- Beverages: coffee, black tea, alcohol
- Proteins: lamb and large amounts of other red meats, shrimp, prawns, veal
- Food types: all fried and barbequed foods
Other: cigarettes, recreational stimulants