Are jaw and facial reflexes modulated during clinical or experimental orofacial pain?

A De Laat, P Svensson, G M Macaluso
Journal of Orofacial Pain 1998, 12 (4): 260-71
A variety of jaw and facial reflexes can be evoked by orofacial mechanical or electrical stimuli. Because of its possible diagnostic utility in the management of pain and dysfunction of the masticatory system, the exteroceptive suppression that can be evoked in the masseter and temporalis muscles has been particularly investigated. A review of the different studies emphasizes the crucial importance of the area stimulated and the type of stimulation used to evoke the reflex. More recent studies have applied the necessary standardization of stimulus intensity, clenching levels, recording procedures, and unbiased interpretation of the reflex components in muscle electromyographic (EMG) activity. Controversial results have been reported regarding the differences in these inhibitory (and excitatory) reflex responses between temporomandibular disorder or headache patients and controls. Even if the absence of a second inhibitory phase in the masseteric EMG activity of the patients is a frequent finding, its sensitivity and specificity as a diagnostic tool for myogenous pain or bruxism remain to be tested. Controlled studies on the duration of the second exteroceptive suppression period in tension-type headache patients could not confirm the initially reported difference between patients and asymptomatic subjects. Studies that involve experimentally induced muscle pain could provide better insight into the characteristics of the afferent fibers and synaptic circuitry that are involved in the jaw and facial reflexes.

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