Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use by Dental Patients

Eric T. Stoopler, DMD


October 18, 2012

Complementary and Alternative Medicine Usage by Patients of a Dental School Clinic

Spector ML, Fischer M, Dawson DV, et al
Spec Care Dentist. 2012;32:177-183

Complementary and Alternative Medicine

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of unconventional medical systems, practices, and products that are not considered part of the care usually provided by medical doctors and other healthcare professionals.[1] According to the 2007 US National Health Interview Survey (NHIS), approximately 38% of adults aged 18 years or older used some form of CAM.[2] The CAM therapies most often used by adults were nonvitamin, nonmineral natural products; deep-breathing exercises; meditation; chiropractic or osteopathic manipulation; massage; and yoga.[2]

Spector and colleagues investigated use of CAM among patients of a dental school clinic. Their objectives were to determine the prevalence of CAM use among these patients and whether any associations existed between certain dental conditions and the use of CAM therapies. The investigators administered a 30-page survey on use of CAM to 402 participants recruited from the waiting room of the University of Iowa College of Dentistry's primary dental clinic.

The major findings of this study were as follows:

  • 76.1% of participants had had at least 1 CAM treatment in the past 12 months;

  • 93.3% of participants had had at least 1 CAM treatment at any time in the past;

  • The most commonly reported reason for seeking CAM therapy was for general wellness (33.4%);

  • Tooth pain was the most frequently reported dental condition that motivated participants to use CAM therapies (3.8%); and

  • Users of topical oral herbal and natural products most frequently cited preventive/oral health as the reason for use of these products (39.5%).


Oral healthcare providers should appreciate the increased role of CAM therapies among the general population. Patients with persistent facial pain conditions, such as temporomandibular disorders, are increasingly using CAM therapies, such as biofeedback, relaxation, and acupuncture, to manage their conditions -- often with more favorable results than conventional biomedical approaches.[3]

The increased use of herbal products among dental school patients has been documented previously,[4] and the current study further clarifies the oral and dental conditions for which patients may be using these products. The results of this study should strongly encourage dental professionals to ask their patients about CAM use on a routine basis, because these products can affect overall care. In addition, oral healthcare providers should consider recommending the use of CAM modalities for chronic orofacial pain disorders that do not respond favorably to conventional medical or dental therapies, because emerging research demonstrates the effectiveness of CAM for these types of conditions.