Pain in the head and neck is often called craniofacial pain or a little more limited description might be orofacial pain. I am a general dentist so I deal with a lot of tooth or odontogenic pain. I also enjoy treating non-odontogenic pain of the head and neck. I enjoy the hunt for the cause of the pain and the relief I am able to give that no other health practitioner has been able to give or even diagnose. Pain, as we generally speak of it, is perceived in the cortex of the brain upon reception of neurochemicals transmitting a pain signal.
So, what is pain, really? Pain has been described medically as follows “an unpleasant sensory and emotional experience with actual potential tissue damage or described in terms of such damage.” In the region of the head and neck, the site and the source of the pain are often different. This is especially true with temporomandibular disorders including problems and pain associated with the TMJ (temporomandibular joint). The muscles of mastication and facial expression can refer pain to many different structures or areas like the ear, or the teeth, or the eyes. These muscles often impinge or put pressure on nerves leading to headaches.
My training is to sort out the source of the pain and then treat the source and not the area of the pain. Unfortunately, many dentists have resorted to root canal treatments of teeth and yet still have pain after their treatment. Worse yet, they resort to pulling the tooth, only to have the pain still remain. The pain was coming from an overused muscle which could have easily been treated without losing the tooth. Sometimes pain perceived by the brain can be maintained by the autonomic nervous system. The structure or area of damage is healed yet the pain persists. A knowledge of neuro anatomy as related to the head and neck is important. The knowledge of the way nerve signals can become mixed up to make the brain perceive the pain is coming from somewhere else than the actual pain source, is essential in sorting out the true source of pain. The right diagnosis is essential to success in treating pain disorders of the head and neck.