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Trigeminal neuralgia
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Trigeminal neuralgia

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The pain of trigeminal neuralgia is due to a disturbance in the function of the trigeminal nerve, which carries sensation from your face to your brain.

The cause of the pain is often unknown. But, the pain may occur when a blood vessel comes in contact with the trigeminal nerve. This places pressure on the main part of the nerve as it enters your brain. After it leaves your brain and travels inside your skull, the trigeminal nerve divides into three smaller branches, controlling sensation throughout your face:

  • The first branch controls sensation in your eyes, upper eyelids and forehead.

  • The second branch controls sensation in your lower eyelids, cheeks, nostrils, upper lips and gums.

  • The third branch controls sensation in the jaw, lower lips, gums and some of the muscles you use for chewing.

The three branches of the trigeminal nerve deliver sensory stimuli to the brain from the face, teeth and tongue....

You may feel pain in just one area served by a branch of the trigeminal nerve, or the pain may spread to the rest of your face.

Besides pressure by a blood vessel, other less frequent sources of pain to the trigeminal nerve may include:

  • Compression by a tumor.

  • Inflammation, swelling and injury of the covering (myelin sheath) of the trigeminal nerve in a process called demyelination. This occurs in people with multiple sclerosis who develop trigeminal neuralgia.

A variety of triggers, many subtle, may set off the pain. These triggers may include:

  • Shaving

  • Stroking your face

  • Eating

  • Drinking a hot or cold liquid

  • Brushing your teeth

  • Talking

  • Putting on makeup

  • Encountering a slight breeze

  • Walking into an air-conditioned room

When to seek medical advice

Some people mistake the pain of trigeminal neuralgia for a toothache or a headache. It's not uncommon for people to believe that their facial pain is dental-related, particularly when the pain seems to stem from the gum or is located near a tooth. It's also possible for the brain to interpret the facial pain of trigeminal neuralgia as related to a headache.

If you experience facial pain, particularly prolonged pain or pain that hasn't gone away with use of over-the-counter pain relievers, see your dentist or doctor.


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This information is provided for general medical education purposes only and is not meant to substitute for the independent medical judgment of a physician relative to diagnostic and treatment options of a specific patient's medical condition.
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