If you're experiencing facial pain, you've made a smart decision to learn more about it. Facial pain causes discomfort and is associated with many underlying causes that can be difficult to navigate on your own. We're here to help you understand facial pain, what its most common sources are, and what you can do about it.
Get Answers to Facial Pain Causes
Medically Reviewed By Colgate Global Scientific Communications
What Causes Facial Pain?
Facial pain is a unifying term for anyone who experiences discomfort in their face, cheeks, or forehead. Because this refers to a symptom and not a specific condition, it has many potential underlying causes.
Facial pain can vary in terms of intensity, whether it occurs on one side of your face or both (also called unilateral and bilateral), and how long the pain lasts. Some facial pain may be temporary and resolve completely independently, while others may have chronic pain that requires professional treatment.
Potential causes of facial pain may include:
- Oral health problems
- Underlying medical conditions
- Nerve damage
- Traumatic injury
- Headaches and migraines
Understanding potential facial pain causes is a vital first step to receive effective treatment and guide any potentially beneficial lifestyle changes. The appropriate treatment steps, medications, and behavior to manage and reduce your pain will depend on its source. We recommend speaking with your dental or medical professional for their expert diagnosis.
Keep reading below for our overview of some of the most common sources of facial pain.
A dental abscess refers to an infection of the soft insides of your tooth known as the pulp. This occurs when bacteria infiltrate your teeth' vulnerable nerves and blood vessels from tooth decay, gum disease, or injury.
Symptoms of an abscessed tooth may include:
- Throbbing, persistent, or chewing pain
- Tooth or gum sensitivity
- Swollen or red gums
- Foul taste in your mouth
This condition will not heal on its own. If you believe you may have a dental abscess, it’s vital to schedule an appointment with your dental professional immediately. Luckily, they’re experts at treating this condition, preventing it from reoccurring, and helping you manage your pain.
If you’ve recently had a tooth removed and are experiencing pain, you may be experiencing a condition known as dry socket. This occurs when the blood doesn’t properly clot at your tooth extraction position, exposing your nerves and bone.
Symptoms of dry socket may include:
- Radiating or persistent pain following a tooth extraction
- Visible loss of the blood clot around the extraction site
- Bad breath or foul taste in your mouth
Proper clotting contributes to bone growth around the affected area, so it’s important to treat it for your health in addition to managing your pain. Call your dental professional for their expert insight in reducing your pain and to determine whether you require additional treatment.
Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMD)
The mechanism that attaches your jaw to your skull and gives it mobility is your temporomandibular joint (TMJ). Conditions that affect this structure’s functioning are known as temporomandibular joint disorders (TMD).
Symptoms of TMD may include:
- Pain or discomfort in or around your jaw when chewing or speaking
- Limited mobility of your jaw
- Clicking sounds when opening or closing your jaw
- Misaligned bite
If you experience these symptoms, it’s a smart bet to check in with your dental or medical professional. It can be hard to diagnose these disorders on your own, and doing so can be crucial to manage your pain or address the underlying cause.
Headaches and Migraine
Headaches and migraines are a condition that varies between individuals almost as much as facial pain itself. The pain can be chronic or one-off, in your head or face, and severe or mild. In some cases, an underlying dental problem or toothache may lead to a headache.
Symptoms of a migraine may include:
- Pain in your head or face
- Sensitivity to sensations
- Dizziness or disorientation
- Altered visual perception
- Sweating or chills
- Facial fatigue
The appropriate treatment for your headache or migraine will vary based on the severity and underlying cause. Drinking water may help prevent migraines. Taking over-the-counter pain relief medications may be helpful in some cases but may contribute to the problem in some, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
If your pain is severe or reoccurring, you should check in with your dental or medical professional to ensure you can access the best treatment options and prevention techniques available. They can prescribe medications that may be far more helpful than over-the-counter varieties or help prevent headaches and migraines from occurring in the first place.
Sinus infection (also known as sinusitis) is the swelling of the tissues inside the hollow areas inside of your head. Your sinuses are located by your cheeks, forehead, nose, and eyes and connect all of these areas. It’s good to keep in mind that it can be hard to differentiate between a cold, allergies, and a sinus infection on your own.
Symptoms of a sinus infection may include:
- Facial pain, discomfort, or pressure
- Runny or stuffy nose
The treatment for sinus infection is typically drinking lots of fluids to stay hydrated and taking over-the-counter medications like decongestants and cold medicine. Your medical professional may recommend other treatments, such as antibiotics or more powerful prescription medications, depending on the underlying cause and severity.
Your body communicates sensation from your sensory organs (like a feeling of cold in your mouth) through your nervous system to your brain. Your nervous system is made up of nerves, and one of the largest in your head is your trigeminal nerve.
Trigeminal neuralgia refers to dysfunction of this nerve, leading to severe pain when your face receives stimulation. According to the Mayo Clinic, this condition is more likely to women and those over the age of 50.
Symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia may include:
- Episodes of pain that may be unpredictable, spontaneous, or triggered by sensation
- Pain typically affects one side of your face (unilateral)
- Pain in your teeth, cheek, jaw, lips, gums, or eye
- Pain is accompanied by aching or burning
- Episodes get worse over time
For treatment, you must schedule a visit with your medical professional. According to the Mayo Clinic, they may prescribe anticonvulsants, antispasmodics, botox injections, or recommend surgery to treat this condition.
Shingles (Herpes Zoster)
Shingles (also known as herpes zoster) is a condition caused by the varicella-zoster virus, which causes chickenpox. If you had chickenpox as a child, the virus might become reactivated and cause a rash.
Symptoms of shingles may include:
- Red rash that is raised, blistered, or scabbed
- Pain in the head, face, or around the rash site
- Nerve pain (may feel like tingling, burning, or shooting pain)
- Light sensitivity
Important note: If you have singles symptoms, you should schedule an appointment with your medical professional or visit a hospital where they can prescribe antivirals and pain relievers. Please stay away from people who have never had chickenpox or shingles, as you could cause them to catch chickenpox.
Concepts To Keep in Mind
No matter the underlying cause of your facial pain, several themes reoccur throughout the different conditions discussed in this article:
- Accurate diagnosis and understanding the underlying cause of your facial pain is essential to managing, reducing, or preventing it.
- Appropriate treatment will depend on your individual health history and the severity of your pain.
- It can be difficult to diagnose and treat facial pain on your own accurately.
- Your dental and medical professionals are uniquely equipped to help you reduce and manage your facial pain. It’s a great idea to schedule an appointment for their expert insight for diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.
It can be challenging to confront your facial pain, but you’ve made an important first step in reading this article. You’re not alone in this, and experts are prepared to help you. If you’re dealing with chronic or reoccurring facial pain, you have a powerful opportunity to make a lasting change to your long-term happiness and health.
Oral Care Center articles are reviewed by an oral health medical professional. This information is for educational purposes only. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your dentist, physician or other qualified healthcare provider.