Over the course of 25 years in practice, I have seen thousands of patients who complained of persistent pain in their face, ears, teeth, and/or jaw. These pain complaints have often been accompanied by tightness and soreness in their jaw and facial muscles, limited jaw opening, difficulty chewing due to pain, and at times other symptoms such as burning and tingling in the face and lips. Many of these patients have been told by their doctors that their symptoms are “in their head” as a result of past treatment failures. At other times, patients have felt as if they were being personally blamed for having a problem.
If you are one of those people who have facial pain that has lingered, not only is your pain real, it is not your fault! Facial pain can be understood and effectively treated. Facial pain problems fall into one of five recognizable categories. These are:
- Pain of Tooth Origin
- Pain of Muscle and Joint Origin
- Pain of Nerve Origin
- Headache including Migraines
- Pain due to Medical Problems
Unfortunately, many facial pain problems are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed because of three key factors:
Referred Pain: this means that the location of the pain being experienced is not where the pain is coming from. The most familiar referred pain is the pain experienced in the left arm just prior to or during a heart attack. The phenomenon of referred pain is common in the face, leading to treatment at the site of the described pain, but not at the true source of the pain. As a result, pain continues.
Misinterpreting Pain Intensity: Often facial pain is so intense that patients assume that something is terribly wrong. Though it is known that the intensity of symptoms often has nothing to do with the seriousness of a problem, doctors are often persuaded to order lots of medical tests leading to anxious moments while patients wait for the results. When nothing of concern is discovered, a short moment of relief is replaced with the question: “I still hurt, what do I do now?”
Emotions and Pain: Since most people are not able to accept the concept that emotions and stress, through their influence on muscles, can cause significant pain, and because the majority of doctors are unwilling to adequately explain how this occurs, the most common source of facial pain, muscles, are often neglected. As a result, pain lingers and becomes more difficult to treat over time.
So, if you are one of those people who are suffering, using pain medications frequently and having trouble at work or in school because of your facial pain, you really can get help. The most important thing is to find a doctor who listens, understands, and takes into consideration all the aspects of your life that could be contributing to your problem.
From there, many treatments options are available, and your doctor should be able to identify the right one for you. To find out more about facial pain, check out the groundbreaking book “Doctor, Why Does My Face Still Ache”.
Dr. Donald Tanenbaum has been practicing in New York City and Long Island for over 20 years. He is uniquely qualified to diagnose and treat bruxism, TMJ and TMD problems, Sleep Apnea, facial pain, muscle pain disorders, nerve pain disorders, tension headaches, and snoring. Learn more about Dr. Tanenbaum here.