Trigeminal neuralgia is a dysfunction of the trigeminal nerve that results in extreme and often progressive pain. Like TMJ, it may results in jaw pain, face pain, headaches, and more, but it tends to be more serious.

Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia

Trigeminal neuralgia is characterized by many different types of pain. You may experience:

  • Occasional mild pain
  • Occasional sharp stabbing pain. May be spontaneous or may be triggered by:
    • Touching the face
    • Chewing
    • Speaking
    • Brushing teeth
    • Light breeze on the face
  • Pain may be in the jaw, teeth, gums, lips, the cheek, the eye, or forehead
  • Pain may affect only one side of the face
  • May be distributed across a large area or focused in a tiny spot

Trigeminal neuralgia attacks tend to start more mild and become more frequent and severe over time.


Diagram of facial nerves, including the trigeminal nerve.

Photo by btarski


How Do I Tell the Difference?

The two conditions can be easily confused because TMJ may also involve irritation of the trigeminal nerve. The main way to tell the two conditions apart is that trigeminal neuralgia consists of the pain only, and it doesn’t have any of the other symptoms TMJ sufferers may experience, such as the irregular motion, popping, or grinding in the jaw joint, ringing in the ears, and others.

The pain of trigeminal neuralgia is also more limited, but more intense. It’s just the sharp, electric pain of nerve disruption, and doesn’t include the duller ache of muscle soreness or jaw dysfunction. Pain is limited to the areas the trigeminal nerve serves, and won’t affect areas like your neck and upper back.

However, the only way to get a truly accurate diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia is with an MRI, which can look for the telltale signs of damage or pressure on the trigeminal nerve due to abrasion, irregular blood vessels, tumors, or degradation of the nerve itself.

It’s often best to eliminate the possibility of TMJ as part of the process of narrowing in on a diagnosis of trigeminal neuralgia. At Smile Columbia Dentistry, a neuromuscular dentist can evaluate your bite condition and help you know whether you have TMJ or should suspect trigeminal neuralgia.

To schedule your TMJ evaluation, please contact Smile Columbia Dentistry or call

(803) 781-9090 in Columbia, SC today.