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Understanding Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN)

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN), also called tic douloureux, is a chronic pain condition that affects the trigeminal (fifth cranial) nerve, which carries sensation from your face to your brain. TN is a form of neuropathic pain (pain associated with nerve injury or nerve lesion.) Although sometimes debilitating, the disorder is not life-threatening. Symptoms range from mild to severe facial pain, often triggered by chewing, speaking, or brushing the teeth.

There are three branches of the trigeminal (facial) nerve: from top to bottom, they are ophthalmic, maxillary, and mandibular. Pain in one branch is reported by 36%-42% of patients: in 17%-19%, it occurs in the maxillary or mandibular branch, and 2% solely in the ophthalmic branch. When more than one branch is involved, it is most commonly in the maxillary and mandibular branches jointly (35%), and pain in all three branches in 14% of patients. This means that pain in the lower two branches accounts for 69% of patients. This helps to explain why pain in the jaw area is confused with dental pain many times.

Common Symptoms Trigeminal Neuralgia (TN):

  • You have brief periods of stabbing or shooting pain that are sudden and intense.

  • The pain is triggered by things such as brushing your teeth, washing your face, shaving, or putting on makeup.

  • Even a light breeze against your face might set off your pain.

  • It lasts a few seconds to several minutes.

  • The attacks happen several times a day or a week, followed by periods during which you have none at all.

  • The pain usually affects only one side of the face. The attacks happen more often over time, and the pain can worsen.

  • You feel the pain mostly in your cheek, jaw, teeth, gums, and lips. The eyes and forehead are affected less often.

The Facial Pain Association, (FPA) formerly known as the Trigeminal Neuralgia Association (TNA), a non-profit, 501(c)(3) volunteer organization. FPA has emerged as the world’s leading resource for information and health care guidance for all people suffering from neuropathic facial pain. Guiding the association is a volunteer governing board and a Medical Advisory Board of highly-skilled experts in neurosurgery, neuroscience, general medicine, and dentistry.

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