Brain and Spine Care
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Trigeminal neuralgia causes nerve pain in the lower face and jaw. For many people, the discomfort is intense. At Kettering Health, our expert neuroscience team offers a range of non-surgical and surgical treatments for this pain syndrome.
Trigeminal Neuralgia Causes and Risk Factors
The trigeminal nerve is the largest of the 12 cranial nerves. It has three branches that deliver sensation to the eyes and eyelids, forehead, jaw, and lips. Trigeminal neuralgia usually develops when a blood vessel or tumor presses on the trigeminal nerve.
Women older than 50 years old are more likely to have trigeminal neuralgia. You’re also at an increased risk if you have the following:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
Trigeminal Neuralgia Symptoms
Symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia can be sudden, triggered by activities like chewing or brushing your teeth. They may include the following:
- Burning sensation in the lips, jaw, or gums
- Electric, or shock-like, pain in the face
- Facial twitching or spasms
- Upper or lower jaw pain
Types of Trigeminal Neuralgia
Trigeminal neuralgia can be classified as Type 1 (classic) or Type 2 (atypical). Type 1 typically feels like intense bursts of pain with periods of remission (no symptoms) that may last several weeks or months. Type 2 tends to cause constant (chronic) pain.
Trigeminal Neuralgia Diagnosis
Trigeminal neuralgia symptoms can mimic symptoms of migraine headaches, dental problems, or temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ). It’s important to get an accurate diagnosis before choosing treatments.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the most common diagnostic test for trigeminal neuralgia. It shows blood vessels or tumors that may be pressing on the trigeminal nerve.
Trigeminal Neuralgia Treatment
Antiseizure medications such as carbamazepine (Tegretol®) can block pain pathways between your brain and nerves. If medication doesn’t relieve your facial pain, your doctor may recommend surgery. At Kettering Health, our highly skilled neurosurgeons offer several procedures for trigeminal neuralgia.
Microvascular decompression (MVD)
Your surgeon places a small synthetic pad or sponge between your trigeminal nerve and the blood vessel pressing on it. MVD is an open (traditional) surgery, involving a craniotomy (procedure to open the skull).
Radiofrequency thermocoagulation (RFT)
Radiofrequency thermocoagulation uses a small electrode to burn the compressed nerve. A sensation of numbness replaces the pain. During this minimally invasive procedure, we insert a needle through the cheek to access the nerve. Most patients experience immediate pain relief after the procedure.
Radiosurgery is not a form of surgery. It’s a form of radiation therapy, which means it’s noninvasive. Our neurosurgeons deliver this innovative treatment using Gamma Knife® technology.
We treat the root of the trigeminal nerve by precisely applying powerful doses of radiation. It may take several months for pain to subside. Radiosurgery is an excellent option for people who
- Can’t have open (traditional) surgery.
- Deal with other forms of facial pain.
- Haven’t found relief with other trigeminal neuralgia treatments.
Learn more about the benefits of Gamma Knife® radiosurgery.