Judy Bowen-Jones

Dental & Facial Pain

Toothache is the most common type of orofacial pain.

Toothache is pain in and around the teeth and jaws and is most often caused by tooth decay. The pain usually starts suddenly and can vary from mild discomfort to a severe throbbing pain. The area of your jaw close to the infected tooth may also be sore and tender to the touch. Toothache may come and go or be constant. Eating or drinking can make the pain worse, particularly if the food or drink is hot or cold.

The NHS advises that if you have toothache for longer than one or two days, you should visit your dentist as soon as possible to have it treated. The longer you leave it, the worse it will get.

If your toothache is not treated, the pulp inside your tooth could eventually become infected resulting in a dental abscess.

A number of other conditions can cause pain similar to toothache including sinusitis, periodontal abscess and sore gums. Babies can also experience discomfort when their teeth start to develop (teething).

About Facial Pain

Facial pain is most commonly due to temporomandibular joint dysfunction (TMJD). TMJD is a symptom complex including pain and dysfunction of the muscles of mastication (which move the jaw) and the temporomandibular joints (which attach the lower jaw to the skull). The primary features are pain, restricted jaw movement and joint sounds. Sufferers may also experience headaches, tinnitus and dizziness. The causes of TMJD are poorly understood. It is believed that trauma, such as whiplash injury may play a role. Conventional treatments for TMJD include analgesics, anti-inflammatory drugs, bite guards, cognitive behavioural therapy and surgery.

Severe shock-like facial pain may be due to trigeminal neuralgia – see Chronic & Neuropathic Pain.

Acupuncture for Dental & Facial Pain

A World Health Organization review and analysis of controlled acupuncture clinical trials includes Pain in Dentistry (including dental pain and temporomandibular dysfunction) and Facial Pain (including craniomandibular disorders) as symptoms for which acupuncture has been shown to be effective. More specifically research studies indicate that acupuncture may help relieve dental and facial pain by:

  • Reducing the reflex elicited by toothache
  • Regulating the anterior temporalis muscle via reflex pathways, to facilitate smooth opening and closing of the jaw
  • Stimulating the production of pain relieving endorphins
  • Reducing inflammation
  • Increasing local circulation, reducing swelling
  • Releasing adenosine involved in regulating metabolism
  • Reducing the brain’s sensitivity to pain and stress

See also:

Treating Dental & Facial Pain

“If you have dental pain due to tooth decay or dental trauma, then it’s important to see a dentist to get treatment. Acupuncture can be very helpful in providing pain relief pre- and post- dental treatment, but also in reducing anxiety if you are nervous about going to the dentist.

In Chinese Medicine, face pain is seen as obstruction of the flow of energy in the head. When treating face pain it’s important to determine which meridians are affected. Acute facial pain is more likely to be due to an external pathogenic factor, whereas in chronic cases there is likely to be an internal imbalance, with or without any pathogenic factor. Effective treatment depends on taking a detailed case history and making a sound diagnosis”.


Backer, M & Hammes, M. (2010) Acupuncture in the treatment of pain, an integrative approach. Elsevier

World Health Organization. Acupuncture: Review and Analysis of Reports on Controlled Clinical Trials (2003), 87pp. Full report http://apps.who.int/medicinedocs/pdf/s4926e/s4926e.pdf

Research Fact Sheets

For more information see the British Acupuncture Council Research Fact Sheet below.