Medical terms aren’t always the easiest to understand. At Smile Columbia Dentistry, we want to make it easy for our patients to understand every condition or term we talk about. If you suffer from TMJ, you might have heard trigeminal Neuralgia at some point. To help you better understand what the difference between trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ is, Dr. Adam Hahn broke down their main differences below.

What is Trigeminal Neuralgia?

trigeminal neuralgia is the dysfunction of the trigeminal nerve. The trigeminal nerve is responsible for the sensation in your motor functions like chewing or biting. When it starts to dysfunction, it results in extreme and usually progressive pain. Like TMJ, jaw pain is a common side effect as well as face pain, headaches and more.

Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia

The top symptom of trigeminal neuralgia is pain. The pain usually starts out as mild and comes in attacks. Over time it will become more frequent and more severe.

Pain attacks you may experience:

  • Pain in the forehead, eye, cheek, gums, lips, teeth, jaw
  • Pain on one side of the face
  • Pain focused in a tiny spot or across a large area
  • Occasional mild pain
  • Occasional sharp stabbing pain trigger by chewing, speaking, brushing teeth, touching the face, or a light breeze on the face
Diagram of facial nerves, including the trigeminal nerve.

Photo by btarski

What is TMJ?

TMD, known as temporomandibular joint disorder, is commonly referred to as TMJ. It’s a condition that occurs when there’s an imbalance between the bones, nerves, muscles, and teeth that makeup jaw and mouth system.

Symptoms of TMJ

You may experience these symptoms regularly:

  • Migraines and headaches
  • Jaw pain
  • Chipped or worn teeth and restorations
  • Upper back and neck pain
  • Tinnitus (ringing/roaring in ears)
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Extreme Tingling
  • Clicking or popping in the jaw
  • Limited jaw movement

How Do I Tell the Difference Between Trigeminal Neuralgia and TMJ?

Although TMJ and trigeminal neuralgia have similar side effects and areas of pain, there are a few differences you can look for. To start, trigeminal neuralgia only has symptoms that consist of pain. If you experience any symptoms that aren’t pain like limited jaw movement or tinnitus, you can easily rule out trigeminal neuralgia and assume it’s TMJ.

Trigeminal neuralgia also has a different type of pain. Instead of being a constant dull ache like TMJ, trigeminal neuralgia pain often strikes in more painful attacks. You will experience limited but more intense pain.

To determine if you have trigeminal neuralgia, an MRI is the only accurate way to diagnose it. The MRI looks for signs of damage or pressure to the trigeminal nerve due to irregular blood vessels, tumors, abrasion or degradation to the nerve.

Dr. Adam Hahn, our neuromuscular dentist, recommends that patients who suspect trigeminal neuralgia visit us for a dental appointment to rule out TMJ first. We can evaluate your bite and examine you for other signs of TMJ. Book a consultation at our Columbia, SC dentist office by calling (803) 223-7655 or by filling out our contact form.