May is Better Hearing Month , so it seems like a great opportunity to talk about some of the recent thinking on the links between tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and temporomandibular joint disorders (TMJ).

Although it might not be a symptom people associate with jaw problems, tinnitus and other ear problems are very common in people with TMJ. About 80% of TMJ sufferers report some kind of ear-related problem.

mature woman with ear pain rubs the side of her face

TMJ and Tinnitus Modulation

One of the important links that researchers are exploring between TMJ and tinnitus is the phenomenon of modulation. Modulation is when you can change the nature of your TMJ (most often the volume of the sound) by moving different parts of your body. Perhaps 80% of people with tinnitus experience this.

The body part that most commonly causes modulation is the jaw, followed by the head and neck, eyes, or limbs. The fact that it’s the jaw that causes most of the modulation speaks to the close ties between the jaw and the hearing system.

What’s the Connection?

So what is the connection between the jaw joint and the hearing system that leads to tinnitus? There are several potential links. First, there’s the fact that the tiny bones in the ear are evolved from jaw bones. There are still muscle connections that link the ear bones to the jaw.

Another possibility is just the fact of proximity. The “T” in TMJ refers to the temporal bone of the skull, which is where the inner ear is housed. This includes not just the hearing system, but the semicircular canals, which help control your balance. That’s why people sometimes experience vertigo associated with TMJ.

More recently, people are focusing on the trigeminal nerve. This critical nerve is also commonly cited as the source of TMJ-related migraines. Although hearing doesn’t pass through the trigeminal nerve, recent research shows that excitation of the trigeminal nerve (which controls jaw muscles and carries sensory information back from them) can trigger excitation in brain regions linked to hearing.

Does TMJ Treatment Improve Tinnitus?

The big question, of course, is whether treating TMJ can actually improve tinnitus. Often, tinnitus has no good treatment options, and people resign themselves to simply drowning out the sound in various ways.

However, it does seem that TMJ treatment can improve tinnitus. A recent review of 16 studies published from 1964 to 2014 showed that about 69% of people with tinnitus experience improvement if they have their TMJ treated. That is far from a sure cure, but it’s still very good odds.

Have You Tried TMJ Treatment for Your Tinnitus?

Are you in the Detroit area and are suffering from tinnitus? If so, you should consider TMJ treatment for your condition, especially if you experience modulation of your sounds when you move your jaw.

To learn whether TMJ treatment can help your tinnitus, please call (248) 480-0085 today for an appointment with TMJ dentist Dr. Jeffrey S. Haddad at the Michigan Center for TMJ & Sleep Wellness in Rochester Hills.