Orofacial pain disorders have a PR problem. Not only are they hard to understand and even harder to diagnose, they can be so unique and idiopathic that people may have a hard time convincing their doctors that these pains are real. It’s important that sufferers know that their disorder is not “all in their head,” and that their doctors take reports of pain seriously.
To help educate doctors and sufferers alike, the International Association for the Study of Pain (IASP) has launched its “Year against Facial Pain.”
What Is Orofacial Pain?
Orofacial pain derives its name from the regions it affects: “oro” the mouth and “facial” the face. It’s not one disorder, but many of them, the most common of which is TMJ, but the others include:
- Neurovascular orofacial pain–pain caused by circulatory problems, including migraines
- Dental pain–what most people think of as dental pain, caused by decay or damage to teeth. However, it isn’t always felt in the teeth and may be referred elsewhere
- Persistent dento-alveolar pain disorder–pain in teeth and jaw with no clear cause
- Burning mouth syndrome–pain in the mucous membranes that can’t be traced to lesions or other visible causes
- Persistent idiopathic facial pain–facial pain with no clear cause
- Glossopharyngeal neuralgia–sharp, electric pains caused by pressure or injury to the glossopharyngeal nerve, commonly felt in the base of the tongue, the tonsils, or the base of the ear
- Trigeminal neuralgia–sharp, electric pains caused by pressure or injury to the trigeminal nerve. It can cause pain all across the face or in small, specific regionsSome of these conditions are more treatable than others, but in every case there is at least some management techniques that can make the pain more bearable.
How You Can Help
The IASP’s campaign of information awareness includes global events, but you can promote awareness within your circle of influence in many ways:
If you’re involved in a book club, mom’s group, church group, or other gathering, invite a dentist or doctor who treats orofacial pain to speak
Talk to your doctor about orofacial pain and make sure he is knowledgeable and open to the condition
Support research into orofacial pain with donations or volunteer work
Contact your Representative and Senator to make sure they know you support research into orofacial pain
However, your biggest influence can be to talk to people who are suffering from orofacial pain conditions. If they have not talked to their doctor, encourage them to do so. If they have spoken to their doctor, encourage them to get a second opinion, perhaps from a dentist.