Open Access Research article

Treatment seeking behaviour in southern Chinese elders with chronic orofacial pain: a qualitative study

Teresa SY Au1, May CM Wong2*, Anne S McMillan1, Susan Bridges3 and Colman McGrath2

Author Affiliations

1 Oral Rehabilitation, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Hong Kong, Prince Philip Dental Hospital, 34 Hospital Road, Hong Kong SAR, China

2 Dental Public Health, Faculty of Dentistry, University of Hong Kong, Prince Philip Dental Hospital, 34 Hospital Road, Hong Kong SAR, China

3 Centre for the Enhancement of Teaching and Learning/Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam, Hong Kong SAR, China

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BMC Oral Health 2014, 14:8  doi:10.1186/1472-6831-14-8

Published: 25 January 2014



Chronic orofacial pain (OFP) is common in general adult populations worldwide. High levels of psychological distress and impaired coping abilities are common among Western people with chronic OFP but limited information was found in southern Chinese people. This study aimed to explore the perceptions and experiences of community dwelling elderly people with chronic OFP symptoms and their treatment seeking behaviour in Hong Kong.


An exploratory qualitative interview study was conducted. Elderly people experiencing chronic OFP symptoms were invited to take part in an individual semi-structured interview. A total of 25 semi-structured interviews were performed for 25 participants.


Pertinent issues relating to the treatment seeking behaviour emerged from the interviews, many of which were inter-related and overlapping. They were organized into three major themes: (i) Impact of chronic OFP on daily life; (ii) Personal knowledge and feeling of chronic OFP; (iii) Management of chronic OFP. The participants were found to have the intention to seek professional treatment, but there were barriers which discouraged them continuing to seek professional treatment. They also received complementary treatment for chronic OFP, such as acupuncture, massage and “chi kung”. Moreover, a wide range self-management techniques were also mentioned. On the other hand, those who did not seek professional treatment for the chronic OFP claimed that they had accepted or adapted to the pain as part of their lives.


This qualitative study observed that elderly people affected by chronic OFP symptoms in Hong Kong sought many different ways to manage their pain including traditional and complementary approaches. The role of the dentist in dealing with chronic OFP is unclear. Multiple barriers exist to accessing care for chronic OFP. The findings may be used to inform future chronic OFP management strategies in Hong Kong.