If you’ve never heard the term orofacial specialist, I’m not surprised. I’m one of only a few hundred formally trained orofacial pain specialists in the United States. That’s because orofacial pain specialists have not been terribly visible on the health care playing field – until recently. Until very recently the field of orofacial pain was not a recognized specialty by the American Dental Association. This fact made it difficult for patients to get proper treatment. But in March 2020, the American Dental Associations’ National Commission on Specialty Status finally named Orofacial Pain as a new dental specialty,
Orofacial specialists like me treat patients who suffer from pain of muscle origin, joint origin, and nerve origin that is focused in the head, neck, mouth, face and jaw area. For example, we treat people who have chronic toothaches and gum pain – despite having multiple dental evaluations and treatment. The problems we treat involve jaw pain, limited mouth opening capacity, and jaw clicking and locking. In addition, many patients with TMJ issues have problematic headaches, and in many cases, have pain in the nerves that supply the teeth, gums and other facial tissues.
At times we also are called upon to diagnose and or treat patients with complex medical problems that result in facial pain.
Why don’t more people know about orofacial pain specialists?
Because until recently, this specific area of dentistry has not been granted “specialty status” by the American Dental Association. And that’s why orofacial pain specialists can be difficult to find. But now, dental schools that train dentists to become oral surgeons, endodontists (root canal), periodontists (gum therapies) and orthodontists (braces) can also train them to be experts in orofacial pain.
To help our patients, orofacial specialists rely on a wide variety of treatment options including education, medication, therapeutic injections, oral appliances, and muscle and joint rehabilitation therapies. Patient education is crucially important in my field as many of the problems we treat in the jaw muscles and joints are the result of daytime jaw overuse behaviors and sleep-related teeth grinding and clenching. Most orofacial specialists have strong referral relationships with physical therapists, clinical psychologists, pain management physicians, psychopharmacologists, chiropractors and even acupuncturists and leaders of meditation programs. All of these together allow us to successfully care for our patients’ individual needs.
We often validate the fact that your pain is not only real but helpable despite – past treatment failures. Just knowing there’s an answer helps my patients feel better right away.
If you or someone you know has been suffering you can find an orofacial specialist in your area by linking to the American Academy of Orofacial Pain at aaop.org. Look for a specialist with “Diplomate” status. If you’re in the NYC 212-265-0110 or Long Island 631-265-3136 area, feel free to call my office for a consultation.
Relief is here.