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Trigeminal Neuralgia: More Than Jaw Pain

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN), also called tic douloureux, can cause excruciating pain, and it usually affects areas in the lower face and jaw. It can also cause sensations around your nose and above your eyes, because TN develops from irritation to the trigeminal nerve, which branches out across your forehead, cheeks, and lower jaw.

At Cerebrum MD in Tyson’s Corner, Vienna, Virginia, Joseph Watson, MD, specializes in treating neurological disorders involving the brain, such as TN. In this blog, Dr. Watson offers these insights into trigeminal neuralgia and what sets it apart from other types of jaw pain.

How the trigeminal nerve works

Your trigeminal nerve (or cranial nerve V) is one of 12 pairs of cranial nerves. Cranial nerves connect different organs and parts of your body with your brain and transmit sensory information, motor information, or both.

The trigeminal nerve is the largest cranial nerve, and it provides both sensory and motor information. You have one on each side of your head, and they each have three small branches that produce and control sensations in different facial areas, including:

Unfortunately, the trigeminal nerve can also trigger intense and chronic pain when constricted or irritated, leading to TN symptoms.

Signs of trigeminal neuralgia

The most common sign of TN is usually spontaneous and intense pain, typically along the upper or lower jaw. As a result, TN is often confused with a dental abscess, resulting in root canals that don’t provide relief.

Additional signs of trigeminal neuralgia include:

In rare cases, you can experience TN symptoms on both sides of your face, but it’s more common to have pain on one side. For many, even the slightest touch or movement can trigger intense and debilitating pain.

Trigeminal neuralgia can develop at any age, but it most frequently occurs in people over age 50, especially women. There are 150,000 new cases of TN diagnosed each year. Without treatment, TN attacks can increase in frequency and intensity over time.

Finding relief for trigeminal neuralgia 

Many things can cause jaw pain, and between 30-40% of Americans live with some type of orofacial pain. However, trigeminal neuralgia is a neurological disorder caused by nerve compression or nerve damage. As a result, it requires an accurate diagnosis and specialized treatment.

Medication

For many people with TN, the first step in managing pain involves prescriptions, such as anticonvulsants, antidepressants, or muscle relaxants. These medications work to lessen or block pain signals from traveling to your brain.

If medication doesn’t help relieve your symptoms, Dr. Watson could recommend brain surgery.

Surgery

Dr. Watson offers several surgical treatments for trigeminal neuralgia, including minimally invasive approaches that destroy the nerve fibers triggering your pain as well as focused radiation therapy that reduces nerve activity. He can also perform microvascular decompression surgery. This approach focuses on locating and removing blood vessels pressing on your trigeminal nerve.

You don’t have to live with trigeminal neuralgia. If you want treatment, or if you want to see if you have the condition, book an appointment over the phone with Cerebrum MD today.

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