Atypical Odontalgia (Idiopathic or Phantom Tooth Pain)
What is Atypical Odontalgia?

Atypical Odontalgia (AO) is a condition in which a tooth is very painful but nothing can be found wrong with the tooth.  
The pain is continuous, usually burning, aching and sometimes throbbing and most often occurs in upper
bicuspids) or molars.

Since symptoms are very similar to those caused by a "toothache", often numerous dental procedures are done.

To complicate matters, these treatments (such as
pulp extirpation, root-tip surgery or tooth extraction) may offer
temporary relief from pain, only to have the pain return.
Last Updated 26th February 2015
Useful Websites:

Facial Neuralgia Resources

European Association of Oral Medicine

American Academy of Oral Medicine


Useful Articles:

Dental Update 1999.  Orofacial Pain

British Medical Journal 2000.  ABC of Oral Health - Oro-facial Soreness and Pain

J Canadian Dent Assoc 2004.  Diagnostic Challenges of Neuropathic Tooth Pain

British Dental Journal 2006.  Oral Medicine, Update for the GDP - Oro-Facial Pain

J Contemporary Dent Practice 2007.  Diagnosis and Treatment of Atypical Odontalgia: A Review of the Literature
and Two Case Report.

American Academy of Oral Medicine 2008. Patient Information Sheet.  Atypical Odontalgia

JADA 2009.  Clinical Characteristics & Diagnosis of Atypical Odontalgia.  Implications for Dentists

J Headache & Pain 2013.  Review Article.  Multi-Dimensionality of Chronic Pain of the Oral Cavity & Face

Br J Anaesth 2013.  Differential Diagnosis of Facial Pain & Guideleines for Management

Brain & Spine Foundation 2014.  Face Pain.  A Guide to Patients & Carers

Int J Contemp Dent & Med Rev 2015.  Atypical Facial Pain & Atypical Odontalgia - A Concise Review
What are the Signs & Symptoms of Atypical Odontalgia?

The typical clinical presentation of AO involves pain in a tooth in the absence of any sign of pathology; the pain may
spread to areas of the face, neck, and shoulder.

Symptoms include a continuous burning, aching pain in a tooth or in the bone / gum surrounding a tooth.

Often there in increased sensitivity to pressure over the painful region.  Often nothing shows up on diagnostic tests,
no abnormalities are found on X-rays and no obvious cause for the “tooth pain” can be found.

Patients often have difficulty localising the pain.

All ages can be affected except for children.  
AO seems to be more common in women in their mid - 40’s.

Diagnosis is based primarily on symptoms and on elimination of other possible disorders.  Tests may include
diagnostic dental X-rays, CT scans and possibly MRI scans.  If a nerve block does not result in pain reduction or if
the results are ambiguous then a diagnosis of
AO should be considered.

How is it treated?

Medications such as painkillers and sedatives are not effective in AO.  Surgery and other dental interventions rarely
provide relief.

Anti-depressants medications can reduce AO pain which is probably due to their analgesic effects (Anti-depressants
have the ability to produce low-grade pain relief at lower strengths) and not to their
anti-depressant effects.  AO
patients are generally not depressed.

Topical application of
capsaicin (the ‘heat’-producing component of chilli) to painful tissue has also been investigated
as a treatment for

The outcome is usually fair, with many patients obtaining complete relief from pain.

Especially in the absence of overt pathology, particular attention should be paid to avoiding any unnecessary and
potentially dangerous dental intervention on the teeth.

AO is surprisingly common, of uncertain origin and potentially treatable.