Trigeminal Neuralgia

What is trigeminal neuralgia?

Trigeminal nerve

Your trigeminal nerve is the main sensory nerve of your face. It is responsible for pain and other sensations in your face, and connects many parts of your brain to your face. This nerve also controls some functions involved in biting, chewing and swallowing food.

The trigeminal nerve is composed of three large branches:

  • Ophthalmic (related to the eye, V1, sensory)
  • Maxillary (related to the upper jaw, V2, sensory)
  • Mandibular (related to the lower jaw, V3, motor and sensory)

Trigeminal neuralgia (TN — tic douloureux)

TN is a disorder of the fifth cranial (trigeminal) nerve. The disorder causes periods of intense, stabbing, electric shock-like pain that can last a few seconds or minutes or happen constantly. Pain occurs in the areas of your face where the branches of the nerve are distributed:

  • Lips
  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Scalp and forehead
  • Upper jaw and lower jaw

This disorder most often affects one side of your face, but you may experience pain on both sides at different times.

Causes of trigeminal neuralgia

Damage to the trigeminal nerve causes trigeminal neuralgia. We do not know what causes the nerve damage. You may have a pain attack that starts with any of these simple tasks:

  • Brushing your teeth
  • Shaving your face
  • Putting on makeup
  • Chewing or yawning

Even the sensation of a slight breeze or touching or stroking your face may start a pain attack.

Symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia

Symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia include severe, knife-like pain on your:
  • Lips
  • Eyes
  • Nose
  • Scalp and forehead
  • Upper jaw and lower jaw

Treatment for trigeminal neuralgia

Treatment for TN includes:

  • Medical treatment (for example, anti-convulsive drugs that slow the function of nerves that cause pain)
  • Medical pain management (drugs that reduce pain or treat related problems such as depression)
  • Surgical treatment (several types)

In the OHSU Facial Pain Program, we have developed some questions to help you understand your facial pain. These are not a substitute for seeing your doctor if you have facial pain. The answers may help you decide to see your primary care doctor or a facial pain specialist.

Try our free interactive online facial pain diagnosis tool.