Tinnitus is common among TMJ patients. How common? Some estimates say that perhaps 80% of people with TMj develop tinnitus or some other form of ear-related complications such as vertigo, ear pain, or ear fullness. However, studies don’t agree on this high rate of tinnitus risk. And now a new study shows why some studies may disagree about the risk of tinnitus with TMJ.
It turns out that not all types of TMJ are equally likely to result in tinnitus.
Three Types of TMJ
Not all TMJ is the same. Just as not all people agree on whether the condition should be called TMJ or TMD, we can’t agree whether the different subtypes are all considered part of the same condition or should be dealt with as separate conditions. However, for the purposes of this study, researchers considered three subtypes of TMJ. The three subtypes they used were: disc displacement (DD), degenerative joint disease (DJD), and myofascial pain disorder (MPD).
DD is when the cartilaginous disc in the temporomandibular joint moves out of place. DJD occurs when the joint is damaged by arthritis, injury, or other cause. MPD is when a person experiences facial pain primarily as a result of muscle dysfunction.
Identifying Tinnitus Risk
So which of these TMJ types is most likely to be associated with tinnitus? To figure that out, this study looked at a population of 705 patients who presented for treatment at three separate clinics. The control group, 91 patients, didn’t have any type of TMJ. Only 5.5% of control patients had tinnitus. Among the patients with TMJ, the incidence of tinnitus was 41%.
And one type of TMJ had a much higher rate of tinnitus than the others. About 64% of patients with only MPD had tinnitus. In fact, patients with MPD (alone or with other types of TMJ) accounted for 94% of tinnitus patients.
Headaches turned out to be a significant indicator that patients were likely to develop tinnitus. If a TMJ patient experienced headaches, they were 6.6 times more likely to have tinnitus than controls. However, if a patient had TMJ but no headaches, they were only 3.7 times more likely to experience tinnitus than controls.
What Does This Mean for Your TMJ?
This study is one of several indicating that muscle problems are more likely than joint problems to lead to widespread TMJ symptoms. This is good news for people seeking TMJ treatment.
Neuromuscular dentists focus primarily on the role of muscle tension in TMJ. And they have many tools and strategies that allow them to reduce muscle tension, which can lead to relief for a wide range of TMJ symptoms, including tinnitus. See this case study of a teen with pulsatile tinnitus and migraines that we were able to help.