If you’ve recently undergone dental surgery, and now feel a persistent pain in the place where the tooth was extracted, you might be suffering from phantom tooth pain. In today’s post, our James Island dentist will explain the symptoms associated with phantom tooth pain, how it is diagnosed, and what your treatment options will include.
What is Phantom Tooth Pain?
Phantom tooth pain is a chronic, lingering pain in your mouth where you have had dental surgery. The most common type of phantom tooth pain is pain in the space where a tooth has been extracted. This phenomenon is similar to its more commonly known cousin, phantom limb syndrome, wherein amputees feel pain where the amputated limb used to be. It is important to understand that this is not a physical issue, but a neurological one. While phantom tooth pain is not common, it is also not unheard of. It is caused by a damaged or dysfunctioning nerve which continues to signal the brain that there is pain in a tooth, despite the fact that is no longer there.
Phantom Tooth Pain Symptoms
Phantom tooth pain is generally described as a mild to severe throbbing or ache. The pain can vary from one end of the spectrum to the other over the course of a single day. While the phantom tooth pain may start in the one area, it can also spread throughout to other parts of your mouth and even to your jaw. Phantom tooth pain symptoms differ from those of a typical tooth ache, because the specific cause of pain is not identifiable. Normal tooth pain is usually caused by tooth decay, gum disease, or a cracked or damaged tooth.
Because there are no external symptoms involved in phantom tooth pain, diagnosis is generally a process of trial-and-error. In order to diagnose it, a dental health professional must observe the patient over time and work through eliminating any other dental health issues. Misdiagnosis is not uncommon.
Treatment for Phantom Tooth Pain
Because phantom tooth pain is not the result of a physical oral health issue, treatment often means managing the pain via medication. There are a number of antidepressants, steroids, NMDA receptor antagonists, anticonvulsants, and even narcotics that can manage the pain successfully. Treatments like acupuncture and nerve stimulation have also been shown to diminish the discomfort.
The most frequently used medications used to treat this condition is tricyclic antidepressants. Although these are antidepressant medications, they are primarily used for their pain-relieving properties, and not for their antidepressant effects. Generally, treatment is successful in reducing the pain, but not in eliminating it completely.