Innovative Approach to Orofacial Pain

Contact: Amy Gilliam

Photo of Jeff Okeson and Marilyn Stephenson
Jeff Okeson and patient Marilyn Stephenson

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The Orofacial Pain Center at UK was founded in 1977 for the purpose of helping patients suffering with various temporomandibular disorders. Since that time, it has expanded into a multi-disciplinary center for the management of complex orofacial pain problems, including TMD. Patients are routinely evaluated by dentists, clinical psychologists, and physical therapists. Medical and dental specialists are called upon regularly to assist in the diagnosis and management of complex pain problems.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Nov. 15, 2004) -- When you hear the word Botox®, people commonly envision a popular cosmetic procedure to erase wrinkles in the face or neck. However, Botox is becoming more and more popular in treating a variety of disorders, including some dental disorders.

One such disorder is temporomandibular disorders (TMD). The temporomandibular joints (TMJs) are small joints that allow you to perform such functions as opening and closing your mouth, chewing, speaking, swallowing, etc. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research of the National Institutes of Health indicate that at any given time 10.8 million people in the United States suffer from problems with how their jaws function (TMD). 

Dr. Jeff Okeson, professor and chairman, Department of Oral Health Science, and director of the Orofacial Pain Center at University of Kentucky College of Dentistry, sees patients with TMD. In some TMD patients, the central nervous system seems to tell the muscles to contract and will not release. Generally this is referred to as a charlie horse or a spasm. This can happen to runners after running long distances, but when it happens with no explanation, it is referred to as dystonia. Oromotor dystonias are uncontrollable muscle spasms that occur in the muscles that move the jaw. Depending upon which muscle is involved, the jaw moves in a different position. 

“Oromotor dystonias can be a very painful and distressing condition,” Okeson said. “I have treated patients who have had their mouth lock open for days at a time. For these patients, Botox can give them their life back.”

Okeson uses Botox to treat certain muscle types of TMD. By looking at how the jaw is moving, he makes a determination as to which muscles are involved. He then injects Botox into the appropriate muscle. The Botox weakens the muscle and stops the spasm.

On Tuesday, Nov. 16, Okeson will present a lecture to the Bluegrass Dental Society about how Botox is used for patients with TMD and oromotor dystonias.

“It is very rewarding to be able to help patients with problems that were not treatable just a few years ago,” said Okeson.

Okeson provides this treatment for such disorders in patients from as far as Chicago and North Carolina.

Okeson is a 1972 graduate of the UK College of Dentistry and has more than 180 publications in the area of orofacial pain in various national and international journals. Okeson has presented more than 550 invited lectures on the subject of orofacial pain in 47 different states and in 41 foreign countries. He has also received several teaching awards from dental students at UK for outstanding teaching and was recently awarded the first Distinguished Alumnus Award from the UK Dental Alumni Association. 

The Orofacial Pain Center at UK was founded in 1977 for the purpose of helping patients suffering with various temporomandibular disorders. Since that time, it has expanded into a multi-disciplinary center for the management of complex orofacial pain problems, including TMD. Patients are routinely evaluated by dentists, clinical psychologists, and physical therapists. Medical and dental specialists are called upon regularly to assist in the diagnosis and management of complex pain problems.

In 1997 the University of Kentucky Orofacial Pain Master’s Degree Program was nationally accredited by the Post-Graduate Education Committee of the American Academy of Orofacial Pain. The UK program was the first to achieve this national accreditation.

For more information about treatment of TMD with Botox, call the UK Orofacial Pain Clinic at (859) 323-5500.


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