What is the Difference Between TN and TMJ, and How Upper Cervical Chiropractic Can Help.

Posted in TMJ TN on Mar 31, 2020

Many people who suffer with facial pain, jaw pain, and ear pain have a tough time differentiating  what syndrome they suffer from TMJ or TN. With the advent of google it has become easy to become bombarded with too much info.

Unfortunately many who suffer with pain syndromes like tmj and trigeminal neuralgia getting a proper diagnosis can be difficult. In our Pleasanton upper cervical blair office we have seen cases who have suffered for 7 years before being properly diagnosed with trigeminal neuralgia.

This blog isn't about diagnosis but more about what can be the underlying cause of these conditions and what you can do about it.  First we will briefly describe each condition and how they can inter relate. Then we will delve into how upper cervical spine injury can be the root cause of both of these conditions.

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Trigeminal Neuralgia and TMJ - what's the difference?

While tmj and trigeminal neuralgia can have similarities they are very different in their mechanism of cause and how they present symptomatically.

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TMJ - Tempomandibular Joint Dysfunction

Tmj is a condition in which the muscles of mastication are imbalanced and cause the tmj joint to no longer fit as it was designed. This often leads to pain at the tmj, cracking or popping while eating, ear pain, and can make eating difficult if severe enough.  

The pain experienced by TMJ suffers is worse while eating and is often described as a deep seated ache. It is also often described a sharp shooting pain inside of the joint itself. Usually tmj pain does not hurt unless the person is chewing or using the jaw joint.

Underlying Mechanism of Tmj Dysfunction

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Most TMJ dysfunction is due to an imbalance in the muscles that preform chewing. The trigeminal nerve, the fifth cranial nerve, is responsible for the tonicity of the mastication muscles.

If the upper cervical spine has been misaligned by a prior trauma it can result in abnormal trigeminal nucleus function resulting in imbalanced mastication muscle tone. When this occurs it predisposes the person to being affected by TMJ problems.

Other underlying causes of TMJ problems are malformations of the joint itself which can be congenital, asymmetries of the mandible and blunt trauma that directly affects the tmj. In these cases minor surgical intervention, tmj dental specialist treatment and orthotics can be helpful.

Trigeminal Neuralgia- How Does it Present?

Often times people suffering with tmj mistakingly get categorized as having trigeminal neuralgia (TN).  TN is an excruciating condition that produces sharp electrical pain that can bring the patient to their knees or the brink of suicide quite quickly.

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In our Pleasanton upper cervical office we have seen numerous cases that have only suffered for a few days and the patient exclaimed once recovered that suicide entered their minds within the first few hours of dealing with the symptoms.

TN is called the suicide disease because the intensity of its pain is unmatched and far exceeds anything experienced by TMJ sufferers.

TN Symptoms can be so severe that the patients can be doped up on strong anti seizure medication without relief.

Some cases experience "shocks" that are set of by wind, cool air, brushing the face gently and other minor activities. The shock type pain is severe, quickly leaves ( lasting a second to 15 seconds) and often those who suffer have severe PTSD waiting for the next jolt.

Trigeminal Neuralgia is due to the Trigeminal nerve being compromised and the effect are these terrible pain symptoms. Thankfully upper cervical chiropractic has afforded the large majority of these cases relief and in many cases the patient is able to reduce or get rid of their medication all together.

Of course this is achieved by working closely with the doctor who prescribed the medication. You NEVER want to cold turkey strong medication that is used with TN cases.

TN Mechanism and Cause

There are several theories as to what causes TN. In some cases vascular decompression surgery has been helpful. The theory is that a vein entraps the Trigeminal nerve where it exits the brainstem.  This can compress the nerve and lead to this horrible condition.

A decompression surgery is performed to relieve the veins entrapment of the TN nerve. While this is successful in some cases this theory does not explain the relief that many find following precision correction of the upper cervical spine.

Neck Misalignment and TN

It is only a theory at this point, but there appears to be an interplay between an upper cervical  spinal misalignment and TN symptoms. Because the brainstem houses the Trigeminal nucleus,  it is thought that a spinal misalignment in the neck irritates the brainstem leading to a cascade of postural and neurophysiological problems.

This cascade of effects not only can lead to TN but also can lead to other chronic health problems. (1)

What Exactly Does a Blair Upper Cervical Doctor Do?

Blair Upper Cervical doctors are specially trained to locate spinal misalignments in the upper cervical spine and correct them. Spinal misalignment is located by running a battery of neurological tests that locate the spinal segments that have been injured and misaligned by a prior neck Injury.

Once located, precision imaging in the form of digital x-ray or cone beam computed tomography (Cbct) are used to precisely determine which joint has misaligned and the angulation of the misaligned joint.

Each person’s anatomy is different and therefore imaging is used to uncover the blueprint to be used to correct each patient’s individual misalignment pattern.Once this information is gleaned, a gentle, light correction is made without twisting, popping, or pulling.

The patient is then monitored over time to ensure that the correction is holding. If the testing indicates the need for another correction, then it is performed. However, the goal of Blair Upper Cervical Care is for the patient to stay in “adjustment”.

It isn’t the correction that produces healing. It is the removal of nerve irritation and the adjustment “holding” in its normal position that allows the body to function better and proceed through a healing process. This is how Blair Chiropractic treatment for TMJ and TN can aid your body in healing itself.

If you are suffering with TMJ or TN or any other chronic degenerative disease give upper cervical care a chance. You will be glad you did.


1.https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/m/pubm.  ed/21970155

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