Acupuncture Eases Radiation-Induced Dry Mouth

The traditional Chinese medical technique of acupuncture may safely help patients whose radiation treatments cause extreme xerostomia, or dry mouth.  The symptoms of xerostomia include difficulty in speaking, eating and swallowing, infections of mouth tissues, altered taste sensation, tooth decay and malnutrition. “The quality of life in patients with radiation-induced xerostomia is impaired profoundly,” says Mark Chambers, D.M.D., a professor in the Department of Dental Oncology at the University of Texas. “Conventional treatments have been less than optimal, providing short-term response at best.”

Xerostomia develops after the salivary glands are exposed to therapeutic radiation that renders them unable to produce enough saliva. Saliva substitutes like lozenges and chewing gum bring only temporary relief, and the commonly prescribed medication, Pilocarpine, has short-lived benefits and bothersome side effects.

In a pilot study conducted at the M. D.  Anderson Cancer Center that was reported in the Head and Neck journal, patients with xerostomia were given acupuncture treatments. After four weeks of treatments twice a week, statistically significant improvements in symptoms and quality of life were found. Patients acknowledged change for the better in mouth and tongue discomforts, speaking, eating and sleeping difficulties, and the need for oral comfort aids.

According to Dr. Chambers, “The positive results are encouraging.” Further research, including whether acupuncture can prevent— not just treat—xerostomia is planned. (From