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What Is Trigeminal Neuralgia?

Trigeminal neuralgia is a chronic pain condition that affects about 12 out of 100,000 people in the United States each year. You may be experiencing sudden, severe face pain that comes and goes without warning — one of the early symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia. It is a symptom that people often mistake for an underlying dental problem. This misdiagnosis could lead to your dentist pulling multiple teeth before you find out what’s really going on. 

Before you schedule another trip to the dentist, make an appointment with one of our neurologists at University of Utah Health, who are experts in recognizing the signs and treating the symptoms of trigeminal neuralgia.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Causes

There are many causes of trigeminal neuralgia, but trigeminal neuralgia is most often caused by a blood vessel compressing a nerve inside your skull. With every beat of your heart, the vessel pulses, pounding on the nerve and sending abnormal signals that you interpret as pain. The causes of trigeminal neuralgia are complex, and we don’t understand exactly why some people are affected and others are not.

Trigeminal neuralgia most frequently affects people older than 50. In fact, the condition is more common in women than men. Research suggests it could also be related to multiple sclerosis, hypertension, and inherited blood disorders.

Trigeminal Neuralgia Symptoms

Pain typically occurs in intermittent bursts that last anywhere from a few seconds to two minutes. Mild stimuli can trigger attacks, such as brushing your teeth or stroking your cheek. The pain of trigeminal neuralgia may become more and more frequent until the pain is almost continuous.

Flare-ups may continue for a few weeks or months followed by a pain-free period that can last a year or more.

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Trigeminal Neuralgia Treatment: What to Expect

Your doctor will do a physical exam and conduct a detailed medical history to rule out any other causes for your pain. He or she will want to know when the pain first started, what triggers your flare-ups, and whether you’re also experiencing any numbness or changes in hearing—symptoms that could indicate you have another cause of trigeminal neuralgia, such as multiple sclerosis or—very rarely—a brain tumor. Our doctors understand that talking about your pain can be difficult, especially if you’ve been living with it for a long time.

You should take comfort knowing that there are several options for relief. Our doctors say medication is the best treatment option unless your medication doesn’t work, stops working, or causes severe side effects, in which case you could explore one of the surgical options below.

Learn More about Trigeminal Neuralgia Treatment Options

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Next Steps

If you would like to find out more information about surgery for trigeminal neuralgia, you will need to get a referral. You do this by seeing your primary care doctor or neurologist, and requesting a referral to see a neurosurgeon specializing in the treatment of facial pain.

Chronic pain from trigeminal neuralgia can be incredibly frustrating and you might feel alone. If you’d like to speak with someone about the condition’s mental impact, our team can also connect you with the right support group.