New research drills into chronic pain

02 May, 2013

New research involving Charles Sturt University (CSU) lecturer Dr Rahena Akhter has shown the dentist’s drill may not always be the best cure for a sore tooth.

Dr Akhter was part of a multi-disciplinary research team which linked a chronic pain condition affecting the face and jaw to physical changes in the brain.
The condition, trigeminal neuropathy, commonly stems from damage to the nerve responsible for most of the sensation, and some movement, in a person’s face and jaw.
"Patients with neuropathic pain often attend the dentist complaining of pain in a tooth, or in their jaw, that does not have an obvious cause," Dr Akhter said.
"We found this condition is associated with a reduction in volume of the part of the brain which receives and processes sensations including touch, temperature and pain, the somatosensory thalamus.
"The research suggests this and a number of other associated physical changes lead to a disturbance in the rhythm of the electrical impulses between the thalamus and the cortex, which is involved in perceptual awareness.
"It seems it may be this disturbance which causes the constant perception of pain, rather than a physical problem which could be treated by a dentist."
Dr Akhter said the research, which was conducted before she joined CSU from the University of Sydney last year, suggested a patient’s own perception of pain could also be a critical factor in the success of their treatment.
"Different patients deal with pain in different ways, and some have better coping skills than others," she said.
"What this research may lead to are new models of interdisciplinary care, where the treating dentist could consult with other health professionals working in pain management to develop a treatment plan unique to each patient’s needs."
Since joining CSU, Dr Akhter has had research on various aspects of jaw and muscle function published in the Journal of Dental Research, the European Journal of Oral Sciences, and BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders.
Head of CSU’s School of Dentistry and Health Sciences, Professor David Wilson, said Dr Akhter’s ongoing work would contribute to a growing body of research being developed at CSU in Orange.
"The school was established relatively recently, but we have a range of research underway into areas including facial modelling, gum disease and oral cancers," he said.