Xerostomia, or dry mouth due to lack of saliva, is a common side effect of radiation therapy to treat head and neck cancers. From a Chinese medical perspective, the radiation is a heat toxin, which subsequently creates heat and dryness in the body. This heat dries the healthy fluids of the body, creating dry mouth. Using acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine, we can effectively treat xerostomia and the symptoms of severe dry mouth.
Recent research in the journal Cancer has shown significant improvement in severe dry mouth symptoms. The research found reduction in scores of symptoms, higher numbers representing worse dry mouth symptoms:
By six months after radiotherapy, the numbers dropped to 24.1 percent in the acupuncture group and 63.6 percent of the control group still reporting symptoms of xerostomia. Saliva flow rates were also greater in the acupuncture group, starting at three weeks into radiotherapy and persisting through the one and six month follow-up.
Xerostomia dry mouth symptoms are hard to treat with Western medicine, so acupuncture provides a unique opportunity to relieve symptoms of dry mouth. Acupuncture and herbal medicine can also help restore health to the body after chemotherapy and radiation. Chinese medical dietary therapy also provides some ways to treat dry mouth, like poached pears. When all of these modalities are combined, acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine can provide relief with significant results.