It’s National Migraine Awareness Month, so we decided to do our part by focusing on the nerve that serves as the origin point of migraines: the trigeminal nerve.
How the Trigeminal Nerve Triggers Migraines
Migraines are vascular headaches. They are caused by irregularities in the blood vessels in your brain, typically when the blood vessels swell, putting pressure on the brain. The blood vessels don’t expand spontaneously. Often, this swelling is triggered by abnormal stimuli in the trigeminal nerve. Abnormal stimuli in the trigeminal nerve cause it to release chemicals that trigger the expansion of blood vessels. Ironically, the experience of pain as a result can cause more stimuli that leads to more swelling.
But what causes this abnormal stimuli?
Muscles Controlled by the Trigeminal Nerve
The trigeminal nerve controls 8 muscles:
- Lateral pterygoid
- Tensor veli palatini
- Tensor tympani
With the exception of the tensor tympani, all of these muscles are involved in biting, chewing, and swallowing. In fact, the first four are known as the muscles of mastication, because they’re our primary chewing muscles.
One potential cause of overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve, then, is excessive feedback from the jaw system. In TMJ, the muscles are unable to find a comfortable, relaxed position. Instead, they struggle, reposition, and grind. You may experience damage to your teeth, and jaw pain.
Sensations Carried by the Trigeminal Nerve
In addition to controlling muscles, the trigeminal nerve carries sensations from your facial area. The trigeminal nerve has three branches (that’s why it’s called trigeminal). The mandibular branch takes sensory data from the lower jaw area, all the way from the chin up to the area in front of the ear. The maxillary branch covers the area of the upper jaw, including the lower part of the nose and up to the area right below the eye. The ophthalmic branch takes sensory data from the nose, eyes, and scalp–until ⅔ of the way back on the head.
Another potential source of overstimulation of the trigeminal nerve is pain in any of these areas, such as jaw pain or tension headaches.
Are All Migraines Triggered by TMJ?
Based on how unevenly people respond to migraine treatments, it seems likely that there are many different causes of migraines. For many people, TMJ treatment works great, and it involves no drugs and has few side effects. It’s a great treatment option, and people who haven’t tried it should consider it, especially if they have other symptoms associated with TMJ like tinnitus, neck pain, and damage or excessive wear on teeth.
If you would like to learn whether TMJ is responsible for your migraines in Savannah, please call for an appointment with a TMJ dentist at Beyond Exceptional Dentistry.