The trigeminal nerves help your face recognize pain and touch sensations, as well as heat and cold. The nerves also help you chew. When something like an artery or cyst irritates or presses on a nerve, you can get stabbing facial pains known as trigeminal neuralgia. Dental procedures and other injuries can cause numbness, or trigeminal neuropathy.
The trigeminal nerve is the part of the nervous system responsible for sending pain, touch and temperature sensations from your face to your brain. It's a large, three-part nerve in your head that provides sensation. One section called the mandibular nerve involves motor function to help you chew and swallow.
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The trigeminal nerve primarily helps you feel (sensory), although the mandibular nerve branch has both sensory and motor functions. The trigeminal nerve helps with:
The trigeminal nerve, also called the cranial nerve V (that's the Roman numeral five), is the fifth of 12 cranial nerves.
You have two trigeminal nerves, one on each side of your body. They start in your brain and travel throughout your head.
Like a tree extending from your brain throughout your face, the trigeminal nerves have roots and branches:
The trigeminal nerve has three branches that perform distinct functions:
Trauma and injuries can affect the trigeminal nerves. Accidents, tumors and damage from dental procedures or facial surgery can bruise or cut the nerves.
A trigeminal nerve injury may affect a small area, like part of your gum, or a large area, like one side of your face. The injury can cause problems with chewing and speaking. The extent depends on where the nerve damage occurs.
You may have ongoing numbness or facial pain in the area that the nerve serves. These symptoms are trigeminal neuropathy.
An injured trigeminal nerve often recovers its function in time. Rarely, surgery is needed to reconnect severed nerves. Some people need a nerve graft to replace the damaged nerve with a healthy one.
Trigeminal neuralgia is a type of trigeminal neuropathy brought on by nerve damage. The condition causes sudden, intense facial pain on one side of your face. The pain can feel like an electrical shock. Approximately 150,000 people develop trigeminal neuralgia every year. It's also called tic douloureux.
Causes of trigeminal neuralgia include:
Trigeminal neuralgia tends to affect only one side of your face. Some people develop facial twitches (tics) after the pain subsides.
Healthcare providers classify the pain symptoms into types:
Trigeminal nerve problems can be challenging to diagnose because there isn’t a specific test to assess the health of these nerves. In addition, other conditions like cluster headaches, temporomandibular disorders and sinus infections can cause facial pain and similar symptoms.
Your healthcare provider may rely on symptoms and a physical examination to make a diagnosis. You may also get an MRI, CT scan or X-rays. These tests can show if a cyst, tumor or artery is pressing against the trigeminal nerve.
These lifestyle changes can keep the nervous system healthy:
You should call your healthcare provider if you experience:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
The trigeminal nerves play essential roles in helping your face feel pain, touch, warmth or cold. The mandibular branches of the trigeminal nerves help you bite, chew and swallow. In some cases, people develop numbness or other signs of trigeminal neuropathy from an accident, dental procedure or facial surgery. Trigeminal neuralgia can cause stabbing, shock-like facial pain or a constant burning sensation. Talk to your provider about finding relief from these trigeminal nerve conditions.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 06/14/2021.
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