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Causes of chronic facial pain

More than fifteen percent of American adults suffer from chronic facial pain. Some common symptoms include pain in or around the ear, tenderness of the jaw, clicking or popping noises when opening the mouth, or even headaches and neck aches.

A dentist can help identify the source of the pain with a thorough exam and appropriate X-rays. Often, it's a sinus, toothache or an early stage of periodontal disease. But for some pain, the cause is not so easily diagnosed. The pain could be related to the facial muscles, the jaw or temporomandibular joint, located in the front of the ear.

Treatments for this pain may include stress reducing exercises, muscle relaxants, or wearing a mouth protector to prevent teeth grinding. They've been successful for many and your dentist can recommend which is best for you.

Several conditions may be related to temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), but they can be quite varied, and they are often difficult to pinpoint. TM disorders can result when the jaw muscles or jaw joints are affected.

Some TM problems result from arthritis, dislocation, and injury. All of these conditions can cause pain and dysfunction. Muscles that move the joints are also subject to injury and disease. Other factors that relate to the way the teeth fit together — the bite — may cause some types of TMD. Stress is thought to be a factor. TMD affects women of childbearing age more than men, or older men and women.

There are several ways TM disorders may be treated. Your dentist will recommend what type of treatment is needed for your particular problem or recommend that you be referred to a specialist. Treatment may involve a series of steps.

Diagnosis is an important step before treatment. Part of your clinical examination includes checking the joints and muscles for tenderness, clicking, popping or difficulty moving. Your complete medical history may be reviewed, so it is important to keep your dental office record up-to-date.

Please contact the ADA if you have questions about this article.

©2010 American Dental Association. All rights reserved. Reproduction or republication is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission from the American Dental Association.

1/14/2008

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