UK Orofacial Pain Clinic Collaborates with Physical Therapy, Psychology Programs to Benefit Patients and Students

As one of only seven institutions with all academic colleges housed on a single campus, the University of Kentucky provides a collaborative environment for students, professors, researchers, health care providers and patients.

As a comprehensive medical center, and the largest academic medical center in Kentucky, UK and UK HealthCare deliver specialized medical care to patients. Accessibility to various providers can be invaluable when patients seek medical attention for complex health issues.

A collaboration between the University of Kentucky Orofacial Pain Clinic, the College of Health Sciences and the Department of Psychology began more than 25 years ago when Charles Carlson, a professor of psychology and joint professor of dentistry and behavioral science, approached Jeffrey Okeson, chief of the Division of Orofacial pain, about collaborating on research to assist orofacial pain patients whose outcomes were worse due to issues with anxiety and depression. Joining this collaborative effort later was Anne Harrison, physical therapist, associate professor and director of professional studies in the College of Heath Sciences.

Orofacial pain is a complex issue that affects 30 million Americans each year. As the oldest clinic in the United States, UK’s Orofacial Pain Clinic often leads the field in developing treatment and educating providers. While collaborating across disciplines is not uncommon, according to Isabel Moreno Hay, assistant professor in the College of Dentistry, working closely in the same clinical setting is uncommon, especially working in tandem with psychologists and physical therapists.

Currently, UK offers the only orofacial pain program with combined psychology and dental residencies. The benefit of having health care providers available at one location can be reduced travel time for patients and better communication between clinicians.

“We all get the chance to meet the patient and then sit around the table to discuss the best treatment options,” Moreno Hay said. The opportunity to see all health care providers at one time in one location can help reduce patient stress.

Garrett Naze is currently pursuing his doctorate in rehabilitation science through the College of Health Sciences' Division of Physical Therapy. Naze currently holds a clinical fellowship position in the Orofacial Pain Clinic. He works to screen patients and provide physical therapy services such as spinal and soft tissue mobilization. In addition, Naze provides education to patients about techniques they can use themselves to relieve pain. He also teaches them the difference between managing acute and chronic pain. Before beginning his service in the clinic, Naze was unaware of the caliber of the clinic. 

Walter Roberts and Josh Oltmanns are psychology graduate students in the clinic. They teach self-regulation skills to help patients manage the pain they experience. On average, patients experience four years of pain before their first visit to the clinic. For many patients, the orofacial pain specialist can be the fifth, 10th or even 20th clinician they have seen for their issue. Many have spent years being told their pain is all in their head or they’re seeking attention. These experiences create distress that the treatment team can often address.

The clinic provides education to the dental, psychological and physical therapy communities. Dentists, psychologists and physical therapists can come to the clinic and shadow the health care providers. This experience helps improve their treatment practices and ability to conduct more efficient screening and exams.

Tori Justice, a clinical physical therapist for KORT PT, participated in the shadowing program in June 2016. Through the experience she learned how to give better treatment, conduct better patient interviews and get experience that will assist her in receiving additional certification. This opportunity benefits both Justice and the clinic. Not only can the clinic refer patients to Justice, so they can receive care closer to home, Justice is now able to identify symptoms of orofacial pain and knows where patients can receive the best care in the area, UK’s Orofacial Pain Clinic.

“If we want patients to adhere to the treatment, we have to make it easier for them,” Moreno Hay said.

The partnership between the Orofacial Pain Clinic, the College of Health Sciences Department of Rehabilitation Sciences, the Department of Psychology and the community creates an environment where patients can see their care providers all in one location and where providers can give the best care possible, and treat the patient from an interdisciplinary perspective that integrates dental, physical and psychological care.