We’ve all heard someone say their head hurts, and most everyone has experienced a headache at least once in their lives. Facial pain, however, is different. When your face hurts, you may have no idea what caused it — but it can be so severe that it brings your life to a screeching halt.
If your face hurts, you are likely experiencing orofacial pain. Orofacial pain is not a disease, but a term that refers to pain in the face, jaw, or mouth that can be caused by a number of issues ranging from minor to serious. Orofacial pain is not a headache and often feels quite different, but as you’ll learn here, the two issues can be related. Here are 8 possible causes for orofacial pain:
- A temporomandibular disorder (TMD). TMD is a painful condition that can cause ongoing facial pain, among other symptoms. In fact, research shows it’s the most common facial pain condition for which people seek treatment. TMD is often caused by a problem with the temporomandibular joint, otherwise known as the jaw joint or the TMJ. The muscles, tendons, and bones of the TMJ must work together to allow you to chew, eat, and even breathe properly. If one of the components of the TMJ is out of place, becomes inflamed, or has another issue, TMD may result. But TMD can cause much more than just facial pain. It can also cause jaw pain and popping, headaches, trouble eating, neck and back pain, sleep problems, and even seemingly unrelated symptoms such as earaches and tinnitus, or ringing in the ears.
- You have facial migraines. Migraine headaches can be debilitating, with problems like excruciating head pain, nausea, and sensitivity to light. But some migraines can manifest as facial pain, which can be difficult to diagnose. Fortunately, facial migraines often respond well to migraine treatment medications. If migraine headaches run in your family or you have symptoms of migraines, such as seeing an aura before the facial pain occurs, talk to a medical professional to get proper diagnosis and treatment.
- You have trigeminal neuralgia. The trigeminal nerve sends signals from the brain to the forehead, cheek, or jaw area. If this nerve becomes inflamed, a condition called trigeminal neuralgia may result. Trigeminal neuralgia causes intense pain that may be triggered by even the lightest touch to the face. People who have trigeminal neuralgia may find that they go days or even weeks without pain, and then the pain flares up again. Doctors can use a variety of treatments to manage the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia, including medication, injections, or sometimes surgery.
- You’ve been injured or in an accident. Even minor bumps and bruises can cause misalignment of the jaw, which can lead to TMD and ongoing facial pain. Car accidents, sports injuries, or even just a trip and fall can cause problems with the TMJ that last for months or even years without treatment.
- There’s a change in the weather. Season changes can trigger allergies and sinus headaches, which have been known to cause facial pain — as well as trigger underlying TMD symptoms. If you notice that you have facial pain or headaches at certain times of the year, you could have TMD as well as allergies. In addition, extreme temperatures can trigger facial pain in many people with TMD. Hot weather can cause swelling of the jaw joint, leading to pain and inflammation. Cold weather, conversely, can cause muscle tension and stiffness that can lead to jaw pain.
- You aren’t sleeping well. Various studies show that lack of sleep can diminish a person’s ability to deal with pain. Being physically tired can also raise stress levels, which triggers TMD symptoms and may lead to other problems such as teeth grinding at night. TMD can make it difficult to sleep due to facial pain, so the cycle perpetuates itself.
- You’re under a lot of stress. Stress is a major trigger for facial pain because it’s linked to the causes listed above: TMD, migraine headaches, and lack of sleep. You may grind your teeth at night or even during the day, leading to jaw and facial pain. For this reason, at Medcenter TMJ, we include stress management as a crucial component in treating our TMD patients.
- Your diet is lacking certain nutrients. Every cell in the body needs nutrition from the foods you eat to function properly. Your nerves, muscles, bones, and joints are affected by the foods you eat. If your diet doesn’t include the amino acids, fats, vitamins, and minerals that it needs to function, or if you eat too many unhealthy, sugary processed foods, you could be aggravating your facial nerves and muscles. This can lead to TMD and facial pain.
What can I do about facial pain?
The most important step in treating any facial pain is finding the cause of it, but this is not always an easy task. That’s why it’s important to see a medical professional who is experienced in treating orofacial pain.
Diagnosing the cause of orofacial pain may involve a discussion of your symptoms, an exam, evaluation of lifestyle and diet, and specialized medical tests. If you do have an issue such as facial migraines or trigeminal neuralgia, working with your health care provider is the best way to get on the path to wellness.
If you have any symptoms of TMD, such as facial pain, headaches, jaw locking or popping, trouble chewing, or earaches, don’t ignore them. TMD is a complex condition that can be caused by many things other than just grinding your teeth at night. Consider just a few of the possible causes of TMD:
- Autoimmune diseases
- Hormonal changes
- Dental problems
- Nerve disease
Because its causes are so varied and often mysterious, many people, unfortunately, go months or even years without seeking treatment or getting the diagnosis they need and deserve. Medical studies have shown that the causes of TMD are numerous and can cause unneeded pain and stress.
If you’re waking up exhausted, can’t sleep at night, or have a bed that doesn’t suit you, it’s time to make sleep a priority. Sleep is crucial to so many of your body’s processes and a chronic lack of sleep leads to health problems. There is no simple solution to getting better sleep, but there are a few things you can do to start getting the rest your body desperately needs:
- Stress management
- Getting more exercise
- Avoiding caffeine
- Not using screens and blue light in the evening, including smart phones
- Getting tested for TMD or other issues
In rare cases, facial pain can be caused by a serious medical condition such as a tumor. This is why it is important to see a medical professional who treats orofacial pain to get to the root cause and rule out any serious health issues.
Facial pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Contact our qualified, professional staff at MedCenter TMJ. We want to provide you with the diagnosis and treatment you need so you can get back to your life. Call our team at MedCenter TMJ to set up your appointment.