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Orofacial Pain: Three Causes and Their Treatments

By August 1, 2022November 21st, 2022TMJ Disorder
A woman clutches the side of her face, indicating orofacial pain.

If you’ve been experiencing orofacial pain, then you’re likely living with pain in and around your mouth, face, jaw, and head. For some patients, the cause of this pain is known and treatment is available, manageable, and effective. For others, the cause is a mystery, which makes treatment almost impossible. Luckily, our Sacramento dentist is here to demystify orofacial pain. 

Timothy E. Mickiewicz, D.D.S., has years of experience helping his patients diagnose and manage painful orofacial conditions. If you’re ready to experience life-changing dentistry, then contact our Sacramento, CA, dental office today. Patients can request their appointment by calling (916) 469-9178 or by sending our team a message here

Living with orofacial pain is an incredibly isolating and lonely experience. Understanding the source of the pain is the first step in managing the pain and reclaiming your life. Here, Dr. Mickiewicz explores three common causes and treatments of orofacial pain.

  1. Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) is the mechanical point at which the jawbone meets the skull. The muscles and ligaments at this joint help move our jaws up and down, which makes chewing, yawning, and speaking possible. 

Due to overuse or stress (or both), the TMJ can become weak, painful, or stiff. Medical professionals refer to this dysfunction as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD), which experts believe affects nearly 40% of the population. So, it’s surprising that only about 5% of people seek treatment for painful TMD symptoms.

But, even though so few people seek treatment for TMD symptoms, patients do not have to live with orofacial pain. There are several simple and effective solutions to manage TMD pain and correct the underlying issue. 

How to Treat Temporomandibular Joint Disorder

TMJ pain may be the result of numerous issues or conditions, including:

  • Bruxism (or tooth clenching and grinding)
  • Injury
  • Overuse
  • Stress
  • Genetics
  • Medications

Treating a TMD depends on the cause. A thorough examination with Dr. Mickiewicz will help our team pinpoint the issue and customize treatment to your unique needs. Common TMD treatment options include:

  • Lifestyle changes: If stress and anxiety seem to be the cause of a TMD, then we may recommend making small lifestyle changes to start. For example, reducing caffeine intake and practicing mindfulness are great ways to alleviate stress and take pressure off of the TMJ.
  • Orthodontia: A misaligned bite puts uneven pressure on the teeth and jaw joint. If left untreated, misaligned bites can lead to significant orofacial pain and dysfunction. So, fixing misaligned bites with orthodontia–like with Invisalign® treatments–may be the best way to prevent jaw pain.
  • Oral appliance: If teeth grinding and clenching are responsible for your TMD and orofacial pain, then an oral appliance may be the perfect solution. These soft, rubber guards cushion the teeth while you sleep, which prevents unconscious grinding and long-term jaw pain.
  • Trigger-point injections (TPI): Using a numbing agent and corticosteroids, experts administer these injections directly into weak or sore jaw muscles. The result is sustained pain management and prolonged TMD relief.


Bruxism–or unconscious tooth clenching and grinding–is a common symptom of a TMD, but it can often occur on its own. Whether it is a result of a TMD or not, untreated bruxism can have some seriously negative effects on your oral health.

Experts believe that unconscious tooth clenching while we sleep can place up to 250 pounds of pressure on our jaw joints and teeth. For patients living with bruxism, this immense amount of pressure can persist for hours at a time and result in orofacial pain and dental damage, such as:

  • Worn tooth enamel
  • Tooth sensitivity
  • Increased cavity rates
  • Chips, cracks, and fractures
  • Migraines

Leaving bruxism untreated is risky, as long-term dental stress can eventually lead to oral disease, tooth loss, and systemic health problems. Fortunately, simple and effective treatment options are well within reach.

How to Treat Bruxism

Bruxism may be the result of many things, such as:

  • Stress, depression, and anxiety
  • Misaligned teeth
  • Genetics
  • Certain medications

Depending on the cause, Dr. Mickiewicz and our team may recommend:

  • Lifestyle changes: If stress and anxiety are to blame for teeth grinding, then little changes in our everyday lives can make a huge impact. For example, getting plenty of exercise and eating a nutrient-rich diet may help you reduce stress and sleep better at night.
  • An oral appliance: A protective mouth guard can keep teeth adequately shielded from the undue stress and pressure that bruxism places on the teeth. Indeed, these custom-made appliances can make a world of difference in your oral, physical, and mental health.
  • Orthodontia: If uneven teeth are the culprits of bruxism and orofacial pain, then smile-correcting treatments could be the key to getting a pain-free smile. 

Ultimately, a thorough exam and consultation will help our team make recommendations tailored specifically to you. 

Dental Decay

Our mouths are teeming with life. In fact, experts believe that we have over six billion bacteria living in our mouths at any given moment. Many of these bacteria are integral to the function and health of our smiles. Others, however, are harmful to our smiles and lead to dental decay, gum disease, and tooth loss.

One of the most notable symptoms of dental decay is orofacial pain. This is because the tooth-eating bacteria that cause cavities expose the sensitive dentin, pulp, and nerves in teeth. As a result, cavities cause extreme sensitivity to temperatures and pressure. And, if left untreated, cavities can cause life-threatening dental abscesses (which require immediate medical attention).

How to Treat Dental Decay

Treating dental decay depends on how far the decay has spread, but common treatments include:

  • Dental fillings: These composite resin fillings plug the holes that bacteria bore into teeth, effectively stopping the spread of cavities.
  • Dental crowns: If a cavity spreads too far, then a dental filling may not be enough to stop it. That’s why dentists use dental crowns to completely cover and protect teeth damaged by dental decay.
  • Root canal therapy: Sometimes, a cavity bores deep into the structure of a tooth and causes a painful infection inside. Once this happens, the only option to save the tooth is root canal therapy.
  • Tooth extraction: If a root canal cannot save a tooth, then a tooth extraction may be the only way to treat dental decay and alleviate orofacial pain.

Have orofacial pain? Schedule a consultation today.

If you’re living with orofacial pain, then schedule a consultation with our Sacramento dentist today. Dr. Mickiewicz can help you ditch the pain and reclaim your life. Patients can call our team at (916) 469-9178 or they may send us a message here to request their appointment.