Tinnitus, vertigo, and other ear-related symptoms often defy explanation and treatment. We have no prescription medications approved for tinnitus, and many vertigo medications were approved for other conditions and many of those used for vertigo are used off-label because they haven’t been effective enough to be approved by the FDA. For many people, treatments other than drugs can provide good treatment results with fewer side effects.
How Common Are Ear Problems in TMJ?
Ear problems are among the most common symptoms reported by TMJ sufferers. In some studies, about 78% of TMJ sufferers report some type of ear-related problem. The most common ear symptoms are:
- Ear pain
- Hearing loss
Ear Pain and TMJ
Ear pain is common in TMJ. When the temporomandibular joint is stressed, it puts pressure on the ear canal, which can cause pain. It also puts pressure on the temporal bone, which houses the ear, and can put pressure on the nerves that carry sensations from the ear to the brain. All of these could potentially be the cause of ear pain, or it’s possible that ear pain is actually joint pain being misinterpreted as ear pain.
Tinnitus and TMJ
There are many potential explanations for why TMJ causes tinnitus. It’s possible that TMJ disrupts some of the muscles that head into the middle ear because chewing muscles are much larger and directly adjacent to these small ear muscles. Sometimes, a ligament may even connect one of your ear bones to your jaw (your ear bones were actually jaw bones in our evolutionary ancestors). Or it may be that the nerve signals from jaw pain are disrupting your body’s ability to distinguish sound. The nerves from your temporomandibular joint feed into the center of the brain responsible for hearing, so you could literally be hearing your pain.
TMJ and hearing loss are commonly associated. It’s likely that the mechanisms linking tinnitus and TMJ are also responsible for TMJ-related hearing loss.
Vertigo and TMJ
Vertigo and dizziness occur when your body gets mixed signals from its various balance inputs. Balance inputs include the inner ear’s vestibular system, information from your eyes, and your body’s sense of its position relative to itself (for example: my head is upright because I feel compression on my neck vertebrae).
The connection between vertigo and TMJ is even more mysterious, but it may relate to pressure on the temporal bone which houses the delicate vestibular system. Or it may cause pressure on the nerves carrying balance signals. Finally, it might just be causing an overload of the brain in the region responsible for balance.