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New campaign targets orofacial pain

In October the new Global Year Against Pain (GYAP) – the International Association for the Study of Pain’s annual yearlong campaign – begins. This year it centres on orofacial pain, which is physical discomfort associated with the mouth and face.

Each year IASP’s campaign attempts to raise awareness of pain as a condition in its own right and to educate health care professionals, government leaders and the public about chronic pain conditions with the aim of improving the care available to patients. The association chose to highlight chronic pain due to its severe effect on many people worldwide and because, despite the fact that many cost-effective pain relief methods are feasible, governments often neglect this area of healthcare. IASP points out that whilst few people die of pain, millions live and die in the midst of it, thus rendering it an important issue.

As with their previous GYAP campaigns, which have targeted headaches, visceral pain and cancer pain among many other types of chronic pain, IASP aims to raise international awareness and improve treatment of orofacial pain. Healthcare professionals and experts on orofacial pain have created information pamphlets on the subject of orofacial pain for IASP and other related organisations. Some of these materials are aimed at doctors and dentists, while others are intended to help patients understand their condition. Throughout the year, IASP and its 90 national chapters will also sponsor various activities, such as meetings, media interviews and publications, to promote education on issues surrounding orofacial pain.

Falling into the gap

IASP has chosen orofacial pain as its focal point for this year’s campaign because many health professionals are not sufficiently trained to recognise and treat this chronic pain problem. This stems from the fact that orofacial pain conditions often fall into the gap between dental and medical expertise, which means that typically neither doctors nor dentists are very familiar with the problem.

Professor Joanna Zakrzewska, who as Honorary Professor of Restorative Dental Sciences at UCL leads research into orofacial pain, explains that many doctors get no training in this area, whilst dentists are poorly taught about the need for a more holistic approach to facial pain. As a result orofacial pain often goes undetected for a long time, being mistaken for tooth ache or other dental problems, and symptoms can become very severe before it is diagnosed. IASP hope that their campaign will raise awareness in doctors, dentists and the public alike, so that orofacial pain can be diagnosed and treated more quickly.

About orofacial pain

Orofacial pain includes such conditions as trigeminal neuralgia, temporomandibular disorders (affecting the muscles and joints of the jaw), burning mouth syndrome, persistent idiopathic facial pain and trigeminal neuropathic pain. These conditions are caused by diseases or disorder of regional structures, by dysfunction of the nervous system, or through referral from distant sources in their causes. The disorders vary in their symptoms and treatment, but all can prove challenging to diagnose. One diagnostic approach categorizes orofacial pain into four groups based on the underlying pain mechanisms—namely, musculoskeletal, neuropathic, neurovascular, and psychogenic pain. Orofacial pain is common, with around a quarter of the population of the UK affected by one of its manifestations. It is more common in women than men.

Orofacial pain conditions can cause extreme discomfort; trigeminal neuralgia has been described as one of the most excruciating pains known to man. Patients have likened the sensation to lightening shooting through their face or an electric shock that is triggered by the lightest touch. Furthermore, there are social and psychological issues associated with orofacial pain, with over 70% of people affected experiencing psychological distress and many feeling socially isolated. Loss of sleep and pain elsewhere in the body are also linked to orofacial pain.

With the Global Year Against Orofacial Pain IASP is shining a powerful spotlight on the topic in order to remove the current barriers to fast and effective treatment.

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