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Tinnitus & TMJ Disorder

What is temporo-mandibular jaw disorder and why can it be a cause of tinnitus?

The muscles in the jaw are extremely strong and the TMJ joint itself is rather complex as it needs to allow for powerful side to side and front to back movement while we chew. For the jaw to work well the pressure applied from the muscles needs to be even. There is a wide range of reasons why this symmetry can be lost and a number of symptoms that can come from this.

 

Temporo-mandibular jaw disorder (TMD) is a misalignment of the jaw that is usually diagnosed by a dentist, maxillofacial surgeon or ENT consultant. It can come about due to:

  • Changes due to age (arthritis)
  • Poor posture of neck and upper back muscles
  • Stress
  • Injury to jaw
  • Tooth grinding (Bruxism)
  • Use of orthodontic braces
  • Excessive use of chewing gum

Usual symptoms of TMD are:

  • Pain or tenderness, usually near the joint
  • A clicking or popping sound known as crepitus
  • Earache or pain like a toothache
  • Ringing or popping sounds in the ears
  • Sense of fullness in the ear
  • Headache and blurred vision
  • Muscle spasms in the jaw
  • Difficulty chewing
  • Dizziness or vertigo

Some of the auditory phenomena are purely mechanical in nature caused by the poor joint orientation but how is it that it can cause neuronal tinnitus? Unfortunately one of the major nerves that supplies the jaw also has connections to the inner ear or Cochlear. While the exact cause of the stimulation is still unclear it appears that activity from the nerve in the jaw can effectively ‘spill over’ into the Cochlear nerve which then creates the tinnitus perception. It has been shown that quite a lot of people (this author included) can induce tinnitus simply by clenching or holding their jaw in a particular position.

 

Can TMJ disorder be cured? In the case of TMD if we can address the misalignment there is some evidence that the tinnitus perception can be significantly reduced. Self treatment at home can make a significant difference in some cases. This can include:

  • Choosing to eat softer foods until the symptoms ease
  • Avoiding chewing gum or hard sweets
  • Applying a warm compress 3-5 times a day for 5 minutes at a time to the affected area

Our tinnitus experts can also support you with guided relaxation/meditation exercises to help you release stress and tension throughout your body. Early treatment of any hearing loss and tinnitus using hearing aids with tinnitus therapy sounds can also be helpful in lowering overall stress and anxiety levels. More chronic symptoms such as severe pain, jaw locking open or closed or ongoing tooth grinding can sometimes require treatment from your Dentist, GP or ENT Consultant. This can include use of carefully designed tooth guards, surgery, massage and physical therapy. Our tinnitus experts will help guide you to the most effective outcome for you.