What Does My Facial Pain Mean and How Do I Treat It?

Facial pain can range from nagging to debilitating, but it’s nothing anyone should have to live with. The first step is to determine the source of your pain, then how to treat it. Unfortunately, some underlying causes to your facial pain can have similar presentations, and it may take multiple visits to determine the source of your pain. The following information is not meant to diagnose your facial pain, but to help you characterize it and understand which type of medical professional may be able to help you, as well as what can be done about it.

What Could Be Causing My Facial Pain?

The most common cause of acute facial pain is dental in origin. Temporomandibular disorders, either involving the joint or muscles of the face, can also cause chronic pain. You may want to consider seeing your dentist if you have:

  • Sensitivity to hot, cold, or sweet foods
  • Broken teeth, cavities, or receding gums
  • Jaw pain or clicking, either when chewing or upon waking
  • Clenching or grinding your teeth during the daytime or nighttime

Facial pain can also be caused by sinus issues, such as chronic sinusitis. If you have a history of sinus infections, you may want to consult your primary care physician or ENT.

Another final type of pain is neuropathic pain, characterized by tingling, burning or electrical pain. The most common type of neuropathic facial pain is trigeminal neuralgia. Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that affects one side of the face, leading to intense, often debilitating pain in response to normal daily activities like smiling or brushing your teeth. There are no tests for trigeminal neuralgia. Instead, your doctor will form a diagnosis based on your symptoms and by excluding any other causes.

Are There Treatment Options for Facial Pain?

If your facial pain is related to a dental condition, your dentist will recommend appropriate treatment, which could range from fillings to an intraoral appliance to help with chronic muscular issues. Similarly, facial pain with sinus etiology can be treated via medications or surgery by an ear, nose and throat doctor or your primary care provider.

If your facial pain is diagnosed as trigeminal neuralgia, there are a few treatment options available. The most common cause of trigeminal neuralgia is a deviating blood vessel putting pressure on the trigeminal nerve, leading to inappropriate pain signals. Treatment options include:

  • Medications to help manage symptoms, such as antidepressants, muscle relaxers or anti-seizure treatments; however, these medications don’t work for everyone and often decrease in effectiveness over time
  • Surgery (Microvascular decompression surgery) to reposition the blood vessel impinging on the trigeminal nerve
  • Gamma Knife radiosurgery, an advanced form of radiation treatment that can target the trigeminal nerve without invasive surgery and provide relief 

Where Do I Go From Here?

If you think your pain is dental or sinus in origin, it’s important you follow up with the appropriate doctor for a diagnosis and to discuss treatment. However, if you cannot pinpoint the source of your pain and you have been experiencing electric, stabbing, intense pain on one side of your face, you may be experiencing trigeminal neuralgia.

Do you suspect you may have trigeminal neuralgia? If so, it will be important to be seen by an experienced clinician who can help diagnose your condition and recommend treatment options. If you would like to learn more about trigeminal neuralgia and Gamma Knife radiosurgery as a treatment option for your facial pain, contact The Valley Gamma Knife Center. A Nurse Navigator will be glad to speak to you about possible next steps.

Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Anthony D’Ambrosio, M.D., M.B.A., F.A.A.N.S
Dr. Anthony D’Ambrosio is a board-certified neurosurgeon that specializes in Neurosurgery, Stereotactic Radiosurgery, Gamma Knife Radiosurgery (GKRS) and more. He is the Director of Neurosurgery and Co-Director of the Gamma Knife Program at The Valley Hospital. Dr. D’Ambrosio is an expert in treating patients with trigeminal neuralgia, benign or malignant brain tumors, as well as many other neurological conditions.

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