Solving Orofacial Pain a Rewarding Choice

Connor Peck, DDS

While some dentists may choose to avoid a career treating patients with chronic pain, Connor Peck, DDS, recognizes the potential rewards of giving hope and relief to those who suffer.

As a second-year resident in the University of Minnesota School of Dentistry’s orofacial pain and temporomandibular joint disorder master’s program, he is gaining vast experience diagnosing and treating the most perplexing patients and is delighted with his choice.

“Many patients come to us feeling hopeless after seeing many different types of providers from neurologists to ear, nose and throat surgeons to dentists to family physicians,” he said. “We are trained to do a very comprehensive work-up, to listen well, offer patients an evidence-based treatment plan and stay with them on the journey. It is very different from general dentistry and very rewarding because of the problem solving and human interaction.”

Peck’s first exposure to the specialty came in his third year of dental school at Marquette University in Milwaukee when a specialist came to speak to his class about the field. Peck was so intrigued he asked to shadow that dentist and his colleagues at their clinics.

“This specialty sparked my interest because it is more diagnostically-challenging and is much less procedure-oriented,” he said. “Orofacial pain is a good blend of dentistry and medicine.”

The orofacial pain residency program at the U of M is considered one of the top three in a country, according to Peck, who says the opportunities for clinical practice and research are exceptional.

Peck and his co-residents rotate through a variety of specialty clinics – including neurology, rheumatology and orthopedic surgery - to gain a broad perspective on related systems and sources of pain. Residents also participate in an interdisciplinary facial pain clinic at the M Health Fairview Clinics and Surgical Center - Minneapolis that brings together a team of diverse specialists to diagnose and treat the most complex patients.

“The variety is enjoyable and challenging,” said Peck. “We see patients with sleep apnea, with migraine, with face trauma, arthritis, nerve pain, sometimes caused by a failed surgery and often accompanied by the psychosocial effects of living with chronic pain.”

Peck says he and fellow residents are taught to identify the most effective and least invasive treatments, recognizing that opioids can do more harm than good, and surgery is often not the answer.

He says the residency program has prepared him extremely well, and has signed on to join TMJ and Orofacial Pain Treatment Centers of Wisconsin in his hometown of Milwaukee in June of 2020.

“Seeing patients leave hopeful after their first appointment is rewarding,” he says. “But seeing them return for follow-up, after treatment has begun, with better pain control, a better understanding of their pain condition, better quality of life, greater functionality and independence – that is even more rewarding. And we see that type of patient every day.”