What is Orofacial Pain?
OFP, which stands for orofacial pain, is a unique branch of dentistry practiced by Dr. Rich Hirschinger at his office in Beverly Hills, California that involves the diagnosis, and management of chronic head and neck pain using very conservative treatment methods. The types of conditions that OFP doctors treat include primary headaches such as episodic or chronic migraines, tension-type headaches, and cluster headaches, myofascial pain, which is a fancy way of saying pain caused by muscles, neuropathic pain such as trigeminal neuralgia, which is pain caused by damage or irritation of a nerve, TMJ, which stands for temporomandibular joint, and obstructive sleep apnea. What OFP does not involve is the treatment of teeth since evidenced-based research shows that chronic head and neck pain is not related to the occlusion, which is how the teeth come together.
There are dentists who practice what they call neuromuscular dentistry, which is not taught in any accredited dental school in the United States, who argue that a lot of the chronic pain patients report is caused by the “bite.” They claim that teeth touch about 2,000 times a day when we swallow, and when we chew food. I agree teeth touch when we swallow but it is a light touch that does not involve a full contraction of the muscles that close the jaw and cause the teeth to meet, and teeth rarely touch when chewing since there is food between the teeth. Additionally, we should not walk around with our teeth clenched during the day so we teach patients the “n rest position” so that addresses the issue of any daytime pain being caused by how teeth meet. Both OFP doctors and neuromuscular dentists agree that patients clench and/or grind their teeth at night but this can be addressed by covering the teeth at night with a nightguard, which should be a hard appliance that covers all of the teeth, is not designed to change the bite, and it only worn at night. This addresses the issue of any nighttime chronic pain being caused by how teeth meet since the teeth contact the appliance instead of other teeth. Lastly, Dr. Hirschinger and most orofacial pain colleagues do not use a dental drill to alter or adjust the teeth. That begs the question that if OFP doctors can treat patients with chronic head and neck pain without touching or drilling teeth, why wouldn’t every doctor try treating patients using the same conservative, reversible procedures before trying any other approach?
The goal of this blog will be to educate doctors as well as the public about orofacial pain by discussing the treatment approach I use as well as posting some very interesting cases. Since very few doctors are aware of OFP, very few patients are aware of it. However, orofacial pain is getting more recognition because starting in 2011, the Commission on Dental Accreditation of the American Dental Association has accredited ten post graduate programs in orofacial pain. The first two in 2011 were UCLA, where orofacial pain was founded by Dr. James Fricton, and Kentucky. Dr. Hirschinger was the first graduate from UCLA’s Orofacial Pain and Dental Sleep Medicine residency after it received CODA recognition.
The key part of treating anyone with chronic pain is getting a diagnosis before treatment is started. For the patients I see, headache and TMJ are not considered enough of a diagnosis to initiate treatment. What type of headache is it, and what is causing the pain? If your doctor does not know, then I would suggest that you find someone who can give you a diagnosis.
Please spread the word about this blog by telling your colleagues and friends to sign up to receive notifications of new posts. I look forward to answering any questions you have about any chronic head and neck pain you are personally experiencing, or if you have a question about a patient of yours.
Rich Hirschinger, DDS, MBA
Diplomate, American Board of Orofacial Pain
Member American Academy of Orofacial Pain
Lecturer, UCLA Orofacial Pain and Dental Sleep Medicine