Idiopathic Facial Pain Syndromes–An Overview and Clinical Implications

Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2021 Feb 12;118(6):81-87. doi: 10.3238/arztebl.m2021.0006.


Background: Idiopathic facial pain syndromes are relatively rare. A uniform classification system for facial pain became available only recently, and many physicians and dentists are still unfamiliar with these conditions. As a result, patients frequently do not receive appropriate treatment.

Methods: This article is based on pertinent publications retrieved by a selective search in PubMed, focusing on current international guidelines and the International Classification of Orofacial Pain (ICOP).

Results: The ICOP subdivides orofacial pain syndromes into six major groups, the first three of which consist of diseases of the teeth, the periodontium, and the temporomandibular joint. The remaining three groups (non-dental facial pain) are discussed in the present review. Attack-like facial pain syndromes most closely resemble the well-known primary headache syndromes, such as migraine, but with pain located below the orbitomeatal line. These syndromes are treated in accordance with the guidelines for the corresponding types of headache. Persistent idiopathic facial pain (PIFP) is a chronic pain disorder with persistent, undulating pain in the face and/or teeth, without any structural correlate. Since this type of pain tends to become chronified after invasive procedures, no dental procedures should be performed to treat it if the teeth are healthy; rather, the treatmentis similar to that of neuropathic pain, e.g., with antidepressant and anticonvulsive drugs. Neuropathic facial pain is also undulating and persistent. It is often described as a burning sensation, and neuralgiform attacks may additionally be present. Trigeminal neuralgia is a distinct condition involving short-lasting, lancinating pain of high intensity with a maximum duration of two minutes. The first line of treatment is with medications; invasive treatment options should be considered only if pharmacotherapy is ineffective or poorly tolerated.

Conclusion: With the aid of this pragmatic classification system, the clinician can distinguish persistent and attack-like primary facial pain syndromes rather easily and treat each syndrome appropriately.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Facial Neuralgia* / diagnosis
  • Facial Neuralgia* / therapy
  • Facial Pain / diagnosis
  • Facial Pain / therapy
  • Headache
  • Humans
  • Neuralgia*
  • Trigeminal Neuralgia*