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Chronic Facial Pain More Debilitating Than Back Pain

Author: Donald Tanenbaum DDS MPH - Board-Certified Orofacial Pain Specialist at New York TMJ & Orofacial Pain

Date: December 29, 2017

A lot of times people deal with aches and pains by simply ignoring them, or taking an over the counter pain medication in the morning before heading out to work. In many cases, aches and pains are the unfortunate byproducts of getting older or working hard. Some patients approach TMJ problem in a similar fashion. They’ll take a couple of Advil or Aleve, massage their jaw muscles, or maybe switch to soft foods for a day or two and try to ignore it.

But did you know that TMJ disorders can be among the most debilitating forms of pain people can suffer?

According to a recent study by University College in London, Orofacial pain is any type of pain that occurs in the region of the face, including the mouth, jaw (TMJ), nose, ears, eyes, neck, and head and is considered more debilitating to its sufferers than those chronic back pain or headaches. When compared, those who suffered from facial pain reported higher levels of disability and limitation than those who suffered from backaches or headaches by a margin of more than 19%.

Dr. Leeson, a member of the pain study, said, “These initial results suggest that chronic orofacial pain can have a significant impact on patient’s lives, affecting their normal daily activities, ability to work and causing marked disability.”

Since Orofacial pain can be have muscular, articular, or neural origins, management strategies can only be selected after a diagnosis is made and more importantly, if the origin of the problem is understood. What is most challenging about Orofacial pain is that there is a huge gender bias towards women. This bias has a predominant biological basis – often hormone-related.

The relationship between estrogen and pain is only just beginning to be understood. What is even more difficult to understand is the notion that certain people have a genetic predisposition to low pain thresholds in nerve, muscle and ligamentous tissue and are susceptible to developing chronic pain conditions unrelated to any specific risk factors, whether emotionally or physically based.

As a result, a small but growing percentage of patients present with high levels of suffering that don’t seem to be supported by physical findings on examination. Lastly, the role that poor sleep quality and quantity plays in the onset of Orofacial pain must always be assessed.

As a result of these variables careful assessment is necessary. It is not uncommon for patients who have been suffering for months or even years to find considerable relief from therapies that address the broad canvas of risk factors that are typically present.

If, however, care is not provided, these problems can become imprinted in the central nervous system leaving few options for successful care.

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