TMJ and trigeminal neuralgia are related conditions that can cause pain throughout your jaw and cheek, but they are not the same. The magnitude of pain for TN is usually much greater than TMJ.

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN) is when the trigeminal nerve, which is divided into 3 main branches, is irritated or compressed, resulting in pain on one side of the head. TMJ is a jaw condition that can cause trigeminal compression as well as other painful symptoms.

Let’s go over the key differences in more detail below.

Trigeminal neuralgia and TMJ can both be treated with targeted chiropractic adjustments of the upper spine. Dr. Ty Cazoli of Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic has years of experience helping folks like you reverse these painful conditions. Schedule an appointment today!

How to Tell the Difference Between TN & TMJ

Here’s a quick breakdown of each condition:

  • Trigeminal neuralgia (AKA tic douloureux) is a painful condition in which headaches or upper neck pain emanates from the trigeminal nerve on one side of the face, including the jaw. Trigeminal pain feels like an electric shock throughout one cheek. Blood vessel abnormalities, TMJ, or spine misalignment can lead to irritation of the trigeminal nerve.
  • TMJ — sometimes called TMD — stands for temporomandibular joint disorder. This condition means your jaw joint, which connects the jaw to the skull, is not properly functioning, resulting in a locked jaw or jaw pain. Causes of TMJ include abnormal bite, arthritis of the jaw, teeth grinding, stress, injury, and spinal misalignment. According to David Chen, DDS, the most common cause of TMJ pain is overuse and stress of the jaw (such as what happens when you clench your jaw all night long).

Can TMJ feel like trigeminal neuralgia?

Yes, TMJ can cause pain that feels like trigeminal neuralgia because TMJ can directly trigger trigeminal nerve irritation. Both conditions can lead to face pain or migraines.

However, TMJ causes other symptoms besides trigeminal pain, such as locking and popping of the jaw.

Can jaw clenching cause trigeminal neuralgia?

Yes, jaw clenching is a trigger for trigeminal neuralgia pain. Clenching, a common cause of TMJ disorders, can also irritate the trigeminal nerve.

Other triggers for trigeminal neuralgia include touching your face, injury, multiple sclerosis, stroke, or tumor.

Symptoms of Trigeminal Neuralgia

Symptoms of TN include:

  • Electric shock-like type of pain on one side of your head
  • Burning sensation in the cheek or jaw
  • Pain duration of a few seconds to several minutes
  • Sudden pain after chewing, smiling, speaking, brushing teeth, or touching your face

Symptoms of TMJ

Symptoms of TMJ include:

  • Chronic pain in and around your jaw muscles
  • Pain while chewing, swallowing, talking, or yawning
  • Clicking or popping in the jaw
  • Locking of the jaw joint, limited jaw movement
  • Tinnitus (ringing in the ear)

Treatment Options for Trigeminal Neuralgia

What are the treatments for trigeminal neuralgia? Below are 7 treatment options for trigeminal neuralgia, including medication, surgery, and alternative therapies.

  • Self-care — Self-care for trigeminal neuralgia mainly involves knowing and avoiding your TN triggers. Triggers may include touching your face, eating on one side of your mouth, and stressful situations.
  • Chiropractic careRecent case reports show that chiropractic care can help with trigeminal neuralgia. It makes sense since the trigeminal nerve travels through the upper spine, making spinal misalignment a common cause of trigeminal irritation. Upper cervical chiropractors are qualified to address this underlying cause and help reverse TN.
  • Medication — Conventional doctors typically prescribe anticonvulsants or muscle relaxants to block trigeminal pain. The first-line treatment has been carbamazepine for decades, even though it is dangerous for some. This does not treat the root cause of TN but does mask the symptoms.
  • Botox — Your doctor may prescribe botox injections. Botulinum toxin A is a safe, effective treatment for trigeminal neuralgia, with maximum efficacy “noticed between 6 weeks and 3 months after the procedure.” This is a commonly prescribed treatment, but we recommended it as a last resort.
  • Acupuncture — Acupuncture can treat trigeminal neuralgia. This 2021 scientific review concludes that acupuncture is more effective, safer, and less costly than medication- or surgery-based treatment of trigeminal neuralgia.
  • Microvascular decompression — This surgical procedure involves relocating or removing blood vessels that may irritate the trigeminal nerve. During microvascular decompression, your surgeon may place a cushion between the nerve and the blood vessels. It is safe for the elderly. Potential side effects of microvascular decompression include facial numbness or weakness, reduced hearing, or, in very rare cases, a stroke. This is a good option for people who haven’t responded to less invasive treatments, and has MRI evidence that you’re a candidate for this procedure, many TN patients are not.
  • Neurectomy — If other options aren’t working, a neurosurgeon may remove the trigeminal nerve or cut out part of the nerve to eliminate the nerve pain signals. The partial or complete removal of any nerve is called a neurectomy. This is a viable option as well, but is recommended as an absolute last resort.
  • Rhizotomy — Your healthcare provider may recommend a rhizotomy, in which a surgeon destroys nerve fibers to dull the pain. Rhizotomy can be achieved via a glycerol injection into your trigeminal nerve, balloon compression of the nerve, or radiofrequency thermal lesioning (heat damaging). This procedure is recommended as a last resort option. 

For safe, effective, conservative treatment of trigeminal neuralgia or other headache disorders, try upper cervical chiropractic care today. Our non-invasive treatment methods are based on science and decades of real people getting better. Contact us online or call us at 303-955-8270.

Treatment Options for TMJ

How do you treat TMJ? TMJ treatments include chiropractic care, physical therapy, dental corrective procedures, medications, or surgery.

  • Self-care — Self-care for TMJ disorders involves avoiding triggers of jaw pain, including touching your jaw, opening your mouth wide, or resting your chin on your hand. Soft foods may help you avoid a TMJ episode. If TMJ pain flares up, gently apply an ice pack to your affected area or practice jaw stretches okayed by your healthcare provider.
  • Chiropractic adjustment — Chiropractic care is shown to relieve pain and resolve root causes of TMJ disorders. As little as 1 visit per month may significantly improve quality of life in TMJ patients.
  • Physical therapy — A physical therapist can facilitate valuable stretches and exercises to strengthen your jaw joint. Manual therapy paired with therapeutic exercises shows long-term effectiveness in treating TMJ disorders.
  • Medication — Anti-inflammatories, pain relievers, muscle relaxants, and antidepressants are all prescribed to relieve TMJ pain. This masks the symptoms of TMJ pain without addressing the root cause.
  • Botox — Botulinum toxin A injections can reduce inflammation, pain, clicking, and overall temporomandibular joint dysfunction.
  • Occlusal appliances — Nighttime mouth guards or oral splints fit over your teeth. These occlusal appliances can soften your bite to avoid TMJ triggers or correct your bite to improve the structure of your teeth and jaw.
  • Dental procedures — Corrective dental procedures can improve your bite. One root cause of TMJ disorder is misaligned teeth. A dental professional may replace missing teeth, apply a crown, or install braces to align your dental structure. Before getting any dental work done get a second opinion.
  • Surgery — If other treatments have failed, TMJ surgery may be necessary. There are minimally-invasive surgeries like arthrocentesis, where fluid is injected into the affected joint to wash it out. Or there are more major surgeries like open-joint surgery, where a large incision allows surgeons to insert instruments to remove scar tissue or tumors, or replace the jaw joint.

At Denver Upper Cervical Chiropractic, we have seen people like you reverse their TMJ disorders through non-invasive, non-pharmaceutical, science-based treatment interventions. Schedule your appointment today. We reserve Fridays for traveling patients.

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