Jaw soreness and facial pain: These symptoms are frequently talked about and diagnosed as Temporomandibular Joint Disorder (TMJ or TMD). Now neurologists and biologists – like Dr. Paul Durham, distinguished professor of cell biology at Missouri State University and the director of the Center for Biomedical and Life Sciences at the Jordan Valley Innovation Center – are looking at another painful condition involving the trigeminal nerve: Trigeminal neuralgia (TN).
According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, TN is characterized by extreme, sporadic, sudden burning or shock-like facial pain that lasts anywhere from a few seconds to as long as two minutes per episode.
In Durham’s lab, he has investigated the trigeminal nerve functions and tested a few innovative techniques to mitigate trigeminal pain, such as a compound derived from cannabis and stimulation of a different nerve in the neck – the vagal nerve. He also incorporates the use of compounds found naturally in fruits, vegetables and plants into his testing.
Recently, Durham was an invited speaker at the Trigeminal Neuralgia Awareness Symposium in Dublin where he shared about the research and findings. His lab discovered antibodies to fight a particular protein that is known to promote pain, and he calls it a “game-changer.”
Changing lives through greater awareness
In most cases, TN takes longer to diagnose because fewer medical personnel are familiar with it and the symptoms may sound similar to other trigeminal nerve pain (migraines, sinusitis, TMD, toothache, etc.), noted Durham. However, TN can be much more intense and debilitating.
Overall, Durham is excited that the research in his lab has implications for individuals who are suffering such intense pain.
“We are learning more about the risk factors that help to generate a hyperexcitable trigeminal system and put these individuals at greater risk for having an attack and transforming into a more chronic pain state,” said Durham. “In addition, we are discovering novel ways to reduce the sensitivity of the system so that these afflicted individuals can have a better quality of life.”
For more information, contact Durham at 417-836-4869.