Acupuncture for Oral Pain
Maloney, who is affiliated with the Tufts Craniofacial Pain Center is a longtime advocate of using acupuncture over painkillers to treat muscle pain. In addition to his D.M.D., he has a master’s degree in acupuncture from the New England School of Acupuncture. Acupuncture works, George Maloney says, because chronic pain puts the face and jaw muscles into an altered state. Acupuncture can gradually get the muscles to relax. Painkillers, Maloney says, provide only generalized relief and can lead to drug dependence and addiction. “Opioid pain relievers can be effective for a short term treatment of a day or two,” he says. By contrast, acupuncture can provide lasting relief from the pain.
Maloney begins acupuncture treatment by stabilizing the points of contact, or occlusion, between the teeth with a mouth guard or oral splint. “If you create a stable occlusion, which can reduce muscle activity in the jaw, then you will find it much more effective when you treat the muscles more directly with needling,” he says. He treats muscle pain with traditional acupuncture needles or electro- acupuncture, which sends a low, pulsating electric current to the muscles. While acupuncture is not widely used by dental pain practitioners, several clinical studies have shown it to be effective in treating craniofacial pain, especially when combined with stable occlusion.