Types of Facial Pain

Like any other part of your body, your face can hurt for a variety of reasons. Some of these are benign, if unpleasant. Others are more serious and require attention from a doctor or dentist. So, what are the most common causes of facial pain? Here’s a quick rundown, along with what you can do about it.

Possible Causes of Facial Pain


Woman holding face in painWhen you think of a headache, you probably think of pain in the back or top of your head. However, certain types of headaches can affect your face as well. There are a few different types that are worth mentioning:

Cluster headaches tend to strike suddenly. They cause burning pain that starts around the eyes and temples, and the pain can sometimes radiate towards the back of your head. Sometimes, these headaches are accompanied by a runny nose or red eyes.

Ice pick headaches are short-acting, generally only lasting for 2 or 3 seconds. They can strike anywhere on the head, although they generally affect the temples and eye sockets.

Migraine headaches are exceptionally severe headaches that can cause nausea and light sensitivity. They can affect any part of your head, including your face.

Most headaches are not a cause for medical concern. However, recurring headaches can merit a trip to the doctor. Some are not treatable, but others can be alleviated with medication or through lifestyle changes.


Sinusitis is an inflammation of the sinuses, generally caused by an infection. It generally begins after a cold, but can also begin due to congestion from seasonal allergies. It can affect one side of the face or both, depending on circumstances.

Symptoms of sinusitis include a stuffy nose, including mucous drain, particularly in the morning. It can reduce your sense of smell, as well as causing pain and tenderness around the cheeks, nose, or forehead.

Sinusitis can be caused either by a bacterial or viral infection, and generally clears up on its own. However, if you experience symptoms for more than 12 weeks, or if symptoms are particularly severe, it’s wise to visit a doctor. Generally, treatment involves a course of antibiotics. However, some extreme cases require surgery to drain the sinuses.

At-home treatments include non-prescription pain medication, nasal sprays, and sinus irrigations. If you’re going to irrigate, keep in mind that you should use distilled water that has been boiled to ensure sterility.

Traumatic Injury

Sometimes, facial pain can be caused by something as simple as an injury. Falls, bumps, cuts, and bruises can all cause pain. In general, this type of pain will clear up as the injury heals. Needless to see, any serious facial injury, particularly around the eyes, merits a trip to the doctor.

TMJ Disorders

TMJ disorders are a class of disorders that affect the joints and muscles where the jaw meets the skull. They can occur either on one side or on both sides simultaneously.

The main thing that ties together all TMJ disorders is pain and restricted movement in the jaw. Depending on the severity, the pain may be minor, or may radiate throughout the face, head, or neck. Certain TMJ disorders can also cause popping, grinding, or clicking when you move your jaw.

Some TMJ disorders can be treated with a simple dose of non-prescription pain medication. Other disorders may require physical therapy, a bite guard, or even surgery.

Dental Abscess

A dental abscess is caused by an infection in the mouth, where bacteria gets into the soft tissue of a tooth. This can be caused by a cavity, an injury, or any other damage to tooth enamel.

As an abscess gets worse, pain will spread from the tooth to the surrounding tissue, including the jaw, the face, and even the neck. Other symptoms include loose teeth, a swollen face, bad breath, swollen gums, and a fever.

An abscess will not clear up on its own. It will continue to get worse until the infection spreads to the jaw, and even to the rest of the mouth. Treatment of an abscess requires a visit to a dentist, who may remove the tooth or perform a root canal.

Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that affects the face. It gets its name from the trigeminal nerve, which runs from the neck up to the scalp, forehead, lips, cheeks, and jaw. It generally affects one side of the face, but can also affect both sides of the face in extreme cases.

Pain from trigeminal neuralgia usually strikes suddenly and without warning. The pain can range from a minor ache to burning to severe stabbing. It can be worsened by activities such as eating and other facial movements.

Trigeminal neuralgia is usually caused by pressure on the trigeminal nerve. However, it can also be caused by injuries, medical side effects, allergies, or even multiple sclerosis. Only a doctor will be able to diagnose this condition and determine a course of treatment.

What Can I Do at Home?

Many causes of facial pain can be treated at home. The exact treatment will depend on the cause of the pain, but here are some general recommendations:

  • Non-prescription pain medication
  • Elevating the head, particularly at night, to encourage mucous drainage
  • Gargling with salt water
  • Applying a cold compress periodically throughout the day

Should I Seek Treatment?

There are certain circumstances when facial pain merits a trip to a doctor or dentist. The best guideline is to look for the following symptoms, which may indicate an infection:

  • Swelling
  • Persistent redness or swelling
  • Fever
  • Severe pain in the face or jaw
  • Fatigue

For jaw pain, a dentist will generally order an X-ray to look for cavities or tooth abscesses. For other types of pain, a doctor will usually perform a physical examination, and may order an MRI to find the cause of the pain. A doctor may also order an X-ray. For certain conditions, nerve conduction studies may be required to search for nerve disorders.


As you can see, some of the most common causes of facial pain are relatively harmless, and will clear up on their own. On the other hand, others require medical attention. If you need to see a dentist, don’t wait! Contact us to set an appointment.

Leave a reply