Aim: To identify distinct characteristics of unexplained orofacial pain that could be used by dental practitioners in making an early diagnosis. Methods: Subjects reporting orofacial pain in a postal questionnaire-based cross-sectional survey were invited for clinical examination. The interviewer was blinded to the questionnaire responses of the subjects. A diagnosis was made following the examination and subjects were assigned into two groups: unexplained pain and dental pain. The questionnaire responses of subjects who had consulted a healthcare professional within these two groups were then compared with particular attention to demographics, orofacial pain characteristics, consultation behaviour and relationship with other unexplained syndromes. Results: Subjects who had consulted for their pain and were assigned to the unexplained orofacial pain group were significantly (p <0.05) more likely to report the following characteristics: pain descriptors (nagging, aching, tingling), pain pattern (worse with stress), site (poorly localised), duration (persistent/chronic), high disability, multiple consultations and co-morbidities (teeth grinding, reporting of other unexplained syndromes). Conclusion: This study has shown that unexplained orofacial pain has distinct characteristics that differentiate it from other common dental conditions. This provides a good evidence base which can reduce uncertainty among dental practitioners, allowing them to make an early diagnosis.
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