Send to

Choose Destination
Br J Anaesth. 2013 Jul;111(1):95-104. doi: 10.1093/bja/aet125.

Differential diagnosis of facial pain and guidelines for management.

Author information

Facial Pain Unit, Division of Diagnostic, Surgical and Medical Sciences, Eastman Dental Hospital, UCLH NHS Foundation Trust, 256 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8LD, UK.


The diagnosis and management of facial pain below the eye can be very different dependant on whether the patient visits a dentist or medical practitioner. A structure for accurate diagnosis is proposed beginning with a very careful history. The commonest acute causes of pain are dental and these are well managed by dentists. Chronic facial pain can be unilateral or bilateral and continuous or episodic. The commonest non-dental pains are temporomandibular disorders (TMDs), especially musculoskeletal involving the muscles of mastication either unilaterally or bilaterally; they may be associated with other chronic pains. A very wide range of treatments are used but early diagnosis, reassurance and some simple physiotherapy is often effective in those with good coping strategies. Dentists will often make splints to wear at night. Neuropathic pain is usually unilateral and of the episodic type; the most easily recognized is trigeminal neuralgia. This severe electric shock like pain, provoked by light touch, responds best to carbamazepine, and neurosurgery in poorly controlled patients. Trauma, either major or because of dental procedures, results in neuropathic pain and these are then managed as for any other neuropathic pain. Red flags include giant cell arteritis which much be distinguished from temporomandibular disorders (TMD), especially in >50 yr olds, and cancer which can present as a progressive neuropathic pain. Burning mouth syndrome is rarely recognized as a neuropathic pain as it occurs principally in peri-menopausal women and is thought to be psychological. Chronic facial pain patients are best managed by a multidisciplinary team.


diagnosis; facial pain; guidelines

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free full text

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center