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Jaw Pain: TMJ Disorder or Trigeminal Neuralgia?

You have jaw pain but is it necessarily related to the TMJ joint? Maybe. Or it could be trigeminal neuralgia. Read on to learn more. 

What does TMJ mean?

TMJ stands for the temporomandibular joint and it helps us open and close our jaw, and shift it side to side. 

The muscles that control the TMJ can become tight and tender.  The disc that's between the mandible and the frontal bone can also become displaced. Pain is common with eating and talking, as is clicking. 

The Trigeminal nerve is a large nerve with 3 branches that supply the face with pain, touch and temperature sensations as well as provide motor control for biting, chewing and swallowing. The three branches are: Mandibular, Maxillary, and Ophthalmic. 


                                                   Trigeminal Neuralgia - What You Need to Know

How many kinds of trigeminal neuralgia are there? 

There are two kinds of Trigeminal neuralgia (irritation of the Trigeminal nerve):

  • Primary: When an artery or vein wraps around the nerve and causes irritation. The symptoms are often described as brief electric shocks in the face, and are triggered by eating, talking or touching the face. 
  • Secondary: Irritation to the nerve is caused by injury, cyst/or tumor,  multiple sclerosis. This shows up as chronic burning or aching (less intense than the electric shocks of type 1). 

How do you determine if it's TMJ Dysfunction or Trigeminal Neuraligia? 

They do have similar overlap of symptoms, but each does have some hallmark traits. 

Clicking and/or locking is indicative of only TMJ dysfunction, not trigeminal neuralgia. Another big difference between TMJ dysfunction and trigeminal neuralgia related face/jaw pain is tight and tender muscles. Specifically, lateral pterygoid, masseter, frontalis and temporalis. 

Ear pain is common with both problems. A physical therapist is well equipped to help you determine if your symptoms are more related to the TMJ or trigeminal neuralgia. 

                              jaw pain


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