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The average person swallows 2,000 times per day, causing the upper and lower teeth to come together and push against the skull. People who have a poorly aligned bite or missing teeth can have related health problems, such as frequent headaches or sleep disorders, because their jaw muscles must work harder to bring the teeth together, straining the surrounding jaw muscles.
This strain, know as orofacial pain, is defined as any pain in or around the face. Some people may experience pain in the ears, eyes, sinuses, cheeks or side of the head, while other experience clicking when moving the jaw.
Orofacial pain can also be caused by temporomandibular disorder (TMD), stress, nerve disorders or muscle spasms. Serious causes of orofacial pain are tumors in the jaw bone area, oral cancer or referred pain from cardiac disease.
"At the first sign of discomfort, see your general dentist," says Academy of General Dentistry spokesperson Peter G. Bastian, DDS, MAGD. "He or she knows your mouth best and how you handle day-to-day stress."
Sometimes orofacial pain may be difficult to diagnose if its origin is not localized in one area.
"Your dentist will try to diagnose the pain source by conducting tests to rule out a cracked tooth, the need for root canal, gum disease, clenching or tooth grinding," says Dr. Bastian. These factors can cause discomfort in the facial region but can be easily addressed."
Orofacial pain that lasts longer than 10 days to two weeks or is not related to a specific stressful event, such as a car accident, may signal a more serious problem requiring additional tests.
Common symptoms of orofacial pain:
Reviewed: January 2012
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