Neuropathic pain conditions are caused by injury or disorder of nerves in the central or peripheral nervous systems resulting in episodic or continuous pain or numbness.
Among the more common neuropathies that affect the head and facial regions are trigeminal neuralgia, atypical odontalgia, and complex regional pain syndrome.
The most well-known and common cause of chronic or episodic orofacial neuropathy is trigeminal neuralgia. This condition is often the result of pressure on the trigeminal nerve by a blood vessel at the base of the brain. Pain from this condition is frequently described as a sudden, intermittent, shock-like, burning sensation.
Atypical odontalgia is also known as phantom tooth pain and mimics the sensation of a toothache without an identifiable pain source.
Damage to the nerves in the jaw may result from dental procedures including tooth extraction, local anesthetic injections and improper implant placement, leading to the onset of a chronic pain condition.
Complex regional pain syndrome, in which continuous aching pain manifests in a localized area, is thought to originate in a dysfunction of the sympathetic nervous system.
Treatments for orofacial neuropathic pain conditions vary based on the underlying cause of the condition, and may include surgical procedures to intentionally damage the affected nerves so that pain signals are blocked. Antiseizure medications may be effective in reducing nerve activity that sends pain signals. Antidepressants medications may also help to reduce pain.
MRI scans, X-rays and CT scans may be conducted to identify nerve damage, although no single test is known to reliably diagnose orofacial neuropathic pain conditions. A detailed medical history and record of patient symptoms is necessary for diagnosing specific neuropathic conditions.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is the division of the National Institutes of Health that conducts research on neuropathic conditions, causes and treatments.