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Saturday, 9 May, 1998, 01:18 GMT 02:18 UK
Pinprick to take the pain away
Acupuncture: an alternative to usual methods of pain relief?
A pinprick may be all you need to banish the pain often associated with a trip to the dentist.

British researchers have discovered that the ancient Chinese technique of acupuncture may be effective in alleviating dental pain.

A study published in the British Dental Journal shows that it relieves pain which patients experience in the dentist's chair.

It works by either activating the body's own painkillers or by applying stronger pain to another area of the body, thereby lessening the dental pain.

Many fear a trip to the dentist
But the study's authors, Professor Edzard Ernst and Dr Max Pittler from the University of Exeter warned that more research needs to be done to establish whether acupuncture or conventional pain relief methods were more effective.

The team believes that acupuncture was first used in dentistry for pain relief during an operation to remove a patient's tonsils in Shanghai in 1958.

The study, which the researchers believe is the first systematic review of literature on the subject, finds that the technique may be effective in alleviating pain either during or after dental surgery.

Professor Ernst said: "We believe it works in one of two ways: by generating impulses through the nerves and activating the body's own painkillers, or that it is effective because dental pain is lessened if stronger pain is felt elsewhere in the body

"There are still important questions surrounding acupuncture in dentistry, however, and more research needs to be carried out.

"It is also important to point out that acupuncture can never be a substitute for proper dental care."

Acupuncture, which has been practised in China for more than 3,000 years, is based on the belief that every disease or complaint is caused by an imbalance of two opposing life forces.

These life forces are thought to flow through "meridians" on which the acupuncture points are located.

By inserting needles into the acupuncture points, therapists hope to correct an imbalance of the two life forces.

But modern acupuncturists say the technique's effectiveness can be explained by an understanding of the central nervous system.

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