Acute and chronic pain from facial skin and oral mucosa: Unique neurobiology and challenging treatment

Man Kyo Chung, Sheng Wang, Se Lim Oh, Yu Shin Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The oral cavity is a portal into the digestive system, which exhibits unique sensory properties. Like facial skin, the oral mucosa needs to be exquisitely sensitive and selective, in order to detect harmful toxins versus edible food. Chemosensation and somatosensation by multiple receptors, including transient receptor potential channels, are well-developed to meet these needs. In contrast to facial skin, however, the oral mucosa rarely exhibits itch responses. Like the gut, the oral cavity performs mechanical and chemical digestion. Therefore, the oral mucosa needs to be insensitive, to some degree, in order to endure noxious irritation. Persistent pain from the oral mucosa is often due to ulcers, involving both tissue injury and infection. Trigeminal nerve injury and trigeminal neuralgia produce intractable pain in the orofacial skin and the oral mucosa, through mechanisms distinct from those seen in the spinal area, which is particularly difficult to predict or treat. The diagnosis and treatment of idiopathic chronic pain, such as atypical odontalgia (idiopathic painful trigeminal neuropathy or post-traumatic trigeminal neuropathy) and burning mouth syndrome, remain especially challenging. The central integration of gustatory inputs might modulate chronic oral and facial pain. A lack of pain in chronic inflammation inside the oral cavity, such as chronic periodontitis, involves the specialized functioning of oral bacteria. A more detailed understanding of the unique neurobiology of pain from the orofacial skin and the oral mucosa should help us develop novel methods for better treating persistent orofacial pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number5810
JournalInternational journal of molecular sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Jun 1 2021


  • Chronic pain
  • Mucosa pain
  • Orofacial pain

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Spectroscopy
  • Catalysis
  • Inorganic Chemistry
  • Computer Science Applications
  • Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
  • Organic Chemistry


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