Charles Sturt University (CSU) lecturer Dr Rahena Akhter has been recognised with an award at the world's biggest dentistry conference.
Dr Akhter, from CSU's School of Dentistry and Health Sciences in Orange, has been presented with the 2015 Joseph Lister Award for New Investigators at the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) conference, held recently in the United States.
Her research into pain catastrophizing and jaw muscle activity was selected from over 4,800 applications for the award, which highlights original research in oral disease prevention or oral health promotion from young researchers.
"To have my research selected from such a large pool of projects from around the world has been an honour and has reaffirmed the importance of the research and the impact it will have on how dentists treat their patients," Dr Akhter said.
Dr Akhter's research examined how patients perceived pain in their jaw muscles and how this impacted their jaw movements.
It found that patients who perceived a higher level of pain, even if the pain simulated wasn't very high, were more reluctant to move their jaw as instructed and likely to have psychological issues related to pain.
"Each patient will perceive their pain differently and it is important for dentists to acknowledge that patients who are higher catastrophizers will perceive more pain and be less likely to use the muscles affected," said Dr Akhter.
"In cases such as these, a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to pain is recommended; as well as visiting their dentist or specialist, the patient sometimes need to be referred to a psychologist to address how they perceive pain and can best overcome being a higher catastrophizer and the barrier of inflated pain perception.
"Dentists should be able to observe how their patient is reacting to pain in their muscles or joints and to initiate a multi-disciplinary approach to the patient's problem. As health professionals we cannot act in isolation and must be attuned to related issues."
Dr Akhter believes this approach should be introduced industry-wide.
"Having now seen the results of the research and witnessed the results be so widely supported with the award, a holistic, multi-disciplinary approach to pain will be a practice I reinforce with my students and colleagues," said Dr Akhter.