For the first time, an international collaboration of researchers has succeeded in creating a complete overview of all pain conditions in the face, mouth, and jaw and classifying them in the same way, the team reports.
Doctors and dentists will now have a common language and the same understanding of pain, benefitting diagnosis and the patients themselves, says researcher Peter Svensson of the Department of Dentistry and Oral Health at Aarhus University in Denmark.
“We prevent misunderstandings when we use the same criteria, and this provides a better basis for making the right diagnosis. Patients benefit directly because a correct diagnosis is the basis for correct treatment,” said Svensson.
To understand the significance of the classification, Svensson compares it to the concept of heart disease, which covers many diagnoses.
“I don’t imagine anyone would be satisfied if they were diagnoses with heart disease, as there are many specific variants of heart disease, and they require different treatment,” he said.
“In the same way, pain in the mouth, jaws, and face, which isn’t one type of pain but covers many different types of pain that are also treated differently,” he said.
The inspiration for the combined classification of orofacial pain comes from a similar classification of headaches.
“The headache classification was an important reason for improving and strengthening research into the background for and treatment of headaches, and we hope that the international classification will do the same for the professional environments within orofacial pain,” Svensson said.
About 20% of the population suffers from chronic pain, which can be severely disabling for many of them, the researchers said.
“The recognition of pain as a disease followed by a systematic registration of pain conditions is therefore of great importance for research, which is becoming more targeted,” said Svensson.
“Research into orofacial pain has lagged behind in general pain research,” he added.
“The new classification, the common language for pain, can contribute to new studies which identify more precisely how common orofacial pain is and the factors which come into play when people are afflicted by chronic orofacial pain,” he said.
The classification has been published as the International Classification of Orofacial Pain (ICOP) in Cephalalgia and builds on the previous classification work that led to chronic pain going from being symptomatic of a disease to being a disease in itself.
According to Svensson, being included in the World Health Organization’s manual of diseases is a seal of approval, and he anticipates that the new classification will have just as much value.