Face pain may be dull and throbbing or an intense, stabbing discomfort in the face or forehead. It can occur in one or both sides.
Pain that starts in the face may be caused by a nerve problem, injury, or infection. Face pain may also begin in other places in the body.
- Abscessed tooth (ongoing throbbing pain on one side of the lower face that gets worse with eating or touching)
- Cluster headache
- Herpes zoster (shingles) or herpes simplex (cold sores) infection
- Injury to the face
- Myofascial pain syndrome
- Sinusitis or sinus infection (dull pain and tenderness around the eyes and cheekbones that gets worse when you bend forward)
- Tic douloureux
- Temporomandibular joint dysfunction syndrome
Sometimes the reason for the face pain is unknown.
Your treatment will be based on the cause of your pain.
Painkillers may provide temporary relief. If the pain is severe or does not go away, call your primary health care provider or dentist.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your provider if:
- Face pain is accompanied by chest, shoulder, neck, or arm pain. This could mean a heart attack. Call your local emergency number (such as 911).
- Pain is throbbing, worse on one side of the face, and aggravated by eating. Call a dentist.
- Pain is persistent, unexplained, or accompanied by other unexplained symptoms. Call your primary provider.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
If you have an emergency condition (such as a possible heart attack), you will first be stabilized. Then, the provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and do a physical exam. You will be referred to a dentist for tooth problems.
You may have the following tests:
- Dental x-rays (if a tooth problem is suspected)
- ECG (if heart problems are suspected)
- Tonometry (if glaucoma is suspected)
- X-rays of the sinuses
Neurological tests will be performed if nerve damage could be a problem.
Bartleson JD, Black DF, Swanson JW. Cranial and facial pain. In: Daroff RB, Jankovic J, Mazziotta JC, Pomeroy SL, eds. Bradley's Neurology in Clinical Practice. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 20.
Digre KB. Headaches and other head pain. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 370.
Numikko TJ, O'Neill F. Evidence-based approach to the treatment of facial pain. In: Winn HR, ed. Youmans and Winn Neurological Surgery. 7th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2017:chap 170.
Review Date 7/11/2019
Updated by: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Clinical Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.