How Common Are Ear Problems Like Tinnitus in TMJ?

Ear problems are among the most common symptoms reported by TMJ sufferers. Studies estimate that between 75% and 90% of TMJ sufferers report some type of ear-related problem. The most common ear symptoms are:

  • Ear pain
  • Tinnitus
  • Vertigo
  • Hearing loss

Fortunately, TMJ treatment is also very effective in treating these conditions, with most people who have tinnitus and TMJ responding to TMJ treatment.

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. It can sometimes 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. It’s also possible that ear pain is actually joint pain being misinterpreted by the brain 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 in the middle ear because chewing muscles are much larger and directly adjacent to these small ear muscles. The nerves that control these small ear muscles link to the trigeminal nerve, which controls jaw movements. Some of these ear muscles coordinate with jaw movements to open and close your eustachian tubes to regulate air pressure in your ears. When jaw imbalance causes overactivity in your jaw muscles, it might cause similar activity in your ear muscles, too.  

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). When you move your jaw, this ligament may pull on the ear bones, causing them to move as they do when you hear a sound. 

Or it may be that the nerve signals from jaw pain disrupt 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

dizzy woman sitting on couch holding her head while the room spins

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 than tinnitus, 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.

When to Suspect TMJ Is Causing Ear Symptoms

TMJ shouldn’t be your first assumption if you have ear symptoms. However, here are some clues that you should consider TMJ as a possible cause of ear symptoms. 

You’ve Eliminated Common Causes

First, look at the possibility that your tinnitus and other ear symptoms are due to common causes. Exposure to loud noises because of your work and hobbies is the leading cause of tinnitus and hearing loss. Ear wax buildup is another cause of ear symptoms. 

For some conditions, like Meniere’s disease, TMJ treatment can be very effective. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with one or more medical conditions, check to see if tinnitus is a symptom. Tinnitus is sometimes a side effect of medications, so check all the medications you’re taking. Talk to your doctor about changing medications if you think one is behind your tinnitus. 

Symptoms Alter with Jaw Movement

Another sign that TMJ could be linked to ear symptoms is when those symptoms change when you move your jaw. Check whether moving your jaw causes symptoms to change. For example, people often find that moving their jaw causes tinnitus to get louder or change in pitch. 

Symptoms Flare after Jaw Activity

Do you tend to experience tinnitus or bouts of dizziness after working your jaw? This makes it likely that TMJ is behind your ear symptoms. 

Don’t forget that jaw activity isn’t just chewing and talking. Jaw clenching also counts as strenuous jaw activity. If you get ear symptoms when you’re stressed, stress-related jaw clenching might be the cause. You might also clench your jaw when exercising. It’s very common, for example, among weightlifters. Finally, don’t forget about night bruxism: clenching and grinding during sleep. If you wake up with a ringing in your ears, TMJ might be the reason. 

You Have Other TMJ Symptoms

TMJ often causes many symptoms, some of which you might not suspect are linked to your tinnitus, vertigo, or other ear symptoms. Check out the list of TMJ symptoms, and if you have others in addition to your ear symptoms, you should suspect TMJ. 

Your Doctor Says the Condition Is Untreatable

For many cases of tinnitus, vertigo, and ear pain, doctors simply tell sufferers that there is no treatment available. You just have to live with your symptoms. 

In this situation, you should get the opinion of a TMJ dentist. Doctors often don’t think of TMJ. A TMJ dentist can give you a thorough evaluation to see if you might benefit from TMJ treatment.

Relief from Tinnitus in Detroit

Whether you have tinnitus, ear pain, vertigo, or other ear symptoms, TMJ treatment can be 90% effective or more in resolving ear symptoms. 

If you are unhappy with ear symptoms that you think might be related to TMJ, please call (248) 480-0085 today for an appointment.