Tackling Oral and Facial Pain: A Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Tackling Oral and Facial Pain: A Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Your face may hurt because of a variety of reasons from caries, abscesses, and headaches to neuralgia, injuries, or even psychosomatic reasons. If you have been suffering from any kind of facial pain lately, you know that getting the correct diagnosis can take some time.

What is Oral and Facial Pain?

Oral and facial pain, also called orofacial pain (OFP), is any pain in the mouth, jaws, and face. This is a common symptom for many causes. Some of these are TMJ disorders, jaw movement disorders, headaches, and sleep disorders.

Orofacial pain can present in the form of headaches, neck pain, ear pain, dental pain, jaw joint pain, facial burning or stabbing sensation, tinnitus (ringing in the ears), dizziness, muscular incoordination, abnormal itching or tingling around the head and neck, and other unusual pains.

Causes of Oral and Facial Pain

  • Temporomandibular Disorders (TMDs) that cause pain and dysfunction of jaw joints and muscles
  • Trauma from road accidents
  • Sleep disorders like snoring and sleep apnea, bruxism, and clenching
  • Migraine and other neurovascular disorders
  • Trigeminal neuralgia and other neuropathic pain disorders
  • Cervicalgia (neck pain) from spinal cord injury or peripheral nerve injury
  • Orofacial dyskinesias and dystonias cause involuntary movement or contraction of muscles due to the nervous system
  • Disorders or as side-effects of medication
  • Burning mouth syndrome and other odontogenic pain from problems like caries and abscesses
  • Musculoskeletal pain from your muscles, ligaments, tendons, nerves, or bones

How is Oral and Facial Pain Diagnosed?

Since a lot of different conditions can cause pain in the same areas, diagnosing what’s causing it can be tricky. But for a differential diagnosis, your doctor might ask you a few questions to take a look at your history:

  • Where is the pain located?
  • At what time of the day or night does it usually hurt?
  • For how long does it hurt?
  • What kind of pain is it? Is it dull and continuous? Is it throbbing? Is it burning, tingling, or pulsating?
  • What other symptoms are you experiencing?
  • What gives you relief and what makes the pain worse?

The doctor will also carry out a clinical examination and ask about your medical, dental, and social histories. He may also order a radiographic examination.

How is Orofacial Pain Managed and Treated?

A range of pharmacological and non-pharmacological treatment options are available for oral and facial pain. But the first step is to understand the source of the pain to figure out the underlying cause. You need to get an expert diagnosis for this.

If the cause of your pain is dental, you can get fillings, crowns, root canals, perform some exercises at home, or take the help of medication like NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs).

Physical therapy can be helpful for a lot of different oral and facial pains. All the different movements and stretching can strengthen the muscles in your face and jaw. In addition to that, getting psychological help from a professional can help you manage the pain and improve your quality of life, helping you function better.

Other options include laser therapy, oral appliances like splints and bite guards to decrease jaw clenching at night, and steroid or Botox injections to reduce inflammation or ease muscle pain. Although sometimes, surgery may be your best chance.

Things You Can Do to Help Now

Getting the right kind of help will work, but if you have been dealing with oral and facial pain, there are things you can do to help now. Jaw exercises and warm compresses have been found to be beneficial in managing oral and facial pain. They are easy, inexpensive, and effective. Yoga, exercise, meditation, and massages also help a lot.

A Jaw Exercise to Try Out: Place two fingers between your front teeth and count to 10, then rest and repeat 6 times. When you get comfortable with two fingers, try using two knuckles, and then transition to three fingers. Gradually, your range of motion will increase and it will stretch and strengthen your jaw.

Additionally, you can apply heat or ice to your sore muscles and joints to reduce sensitivity and encourage healing. You can complement this with a trigger point massage with your finger or thumb.

The importance of changing your lifestyle also goes without saying. Adopting a softer diet and a better sleep routine along with avoiding sugar, caffeine, or simple carbohydrates (although you may not want to completely cut out food groups) may also speed up recovery.

Although professional treatment works, self-care is the first step and a huge part of the recovery, often proving to be more important than the former in your journey to managing oral and facial pain.