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Papers of the Week

2020 Jan




Tooth-Related Pain or Not?


Renton T
Headache. 2020 Jan; 60(1):235-246.
PMID: 31675112.


Dental pain is the most common acute pain presenting in the orofacial region; however, chronic pain conditions are also frequent and include; temporomandibular joint disorders (TMDs), primary headaches (neurovascular pain), painful post-traumatic trigeminal neuropathy (PPTTN) and less commonly referred pain and idiopathic or centralized pain conditions. All of these conditions can mimic toothache and vice versa. Many of these conditions are comorbid with high levels of tension headache and migraine reported in patients with TMD; however, dentists remain unfamiliar with headaches and medics unfamiliar with toothache's multiple presentations. The anatomical complexity of the region, the potential exhaustive differential diagnoses and the multiple siloed training of specialties, leads to incorrect and delayed diagnosis and often results in patients undergoing inappropriate surgical and medical treatments. The continued inappropriate interventions may also complicate the later presentation of the patient with pain, by changing its phenotype, preventing a timely and correct diagnosis. Due to the variable presentation of toothache, which can mimic many different chronic pains including; episodic throbbing pain of migraine, the dull continuous pain of myofascial and arthrogenous TMDs or centralized facial pain, diagnosis can be complex. Neuralgic pain occurs in the dentition in health and with disease, mimicking conditions like PPTTN, trigeminal neuralgia (TN), and trigeminal autonomic cephalalgias (TACs), many patients are inappropriately diagnosed and treated, either by general medical practitioners assuming that the neuralgia is due to TN rather than more commonly presenting toothache or by a dentists or other surgeons continuing to treat TN or TACs with routine surgical care. Many patients are prescribed countless courses of antibiotics and undergo multiple surgical interventions simply as a result of poor education due to siloed specialty training. This must be addressed to improve patient safety.