17 Mar What is orofacial pain and how can it be treated?
Orofacial pain can be debilitating. It can also greatly reduce one’s oral function. The cause of orofacial pain varies. Some people experience facial and oral discomfort from bruxism (the habit of clenching and grinding teeth) as response to stress while others might feel discomfort from issues that affect tooth alignment or the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The first step to treating orofacial pain is discovering its underlying cause. This is done by having an examination of the oral cavity and facial structures by healthcare professionals like an oral surgeon. Once the underlying cause of orofacial pain is determined, a treatment plan can be developed.
Bruxism and Tooth Wear
Bruxism is a destructive habit that normally begins as a response to tension, stress, and worry. Over time, clenching and grinding the teeth becomes habitual with many people who brux not even realizing that they are bruxing their teeth and jaw. Unfortunately, bruxism will wear down tooth structure. Bruxism alone can make a person’s facial muscles and ligaments feel tight and overworked while tooth wear can lead to discomfort like sensitivity to temperate foods and drinks. Most notably, however, is the effect bruxism and tooth wear can have on the TMJ and jaw alignment.
Malocclusions and TMJ Disorder
A malocclusion (a misaligned bite) and/or TMJ disorder commonly cause orofacial pain. Malocclusions can occur due to damage to the bones, one jaw outgrowing the other, or deformities with the joints (TMJ) that connect the lower jaw to the cranium. A misaligned bite can cause orofacial pain because facial muscles, ligaments, and the TMJs strain to align the jaw properly. Moreover, TMJ disorder—which in many cases, is related to a malocclusion—creates discomfort as well. TMJ disorder means that the TMJs are dysfunctional. This can cause a person’s jaw to “lock up” and it may lead to discomfort when eating and speaking.
Treatment Options for Oral and Facial Discomfort
At first, dental professionals will look at non-surgical treatment options like placing restorations to build up the bite, orthodontic care, and stress reduction techniques. If these options do not alleviate symptoms, a patient might be referred to an oral surgeon for corrective jaw or TMJ surgery.
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