Vertigo is a balance disorder. It occurs when your brain gets mixed signals about motion and position. Your brain uses three different inputs to balance you: your eyes, your body’s sense of the position of different parts relative to each other, and your vestibular system.
The vestibular system is a series of fluid-filled canals in the inner ear that sense motion and orientation changes. Tiny hairs in the canals register fluid movement, so you know when you’re moving. This mechanism is why you often feel dizzy after spinning. Spinning gets the fluid moving and doesn’t stop when you stop. It’s just like stirring a pitcher of Kool-Aid: the Kool-Aid doesn’t stop just because you stop stirring. So your vestibular system tells you that you’re still moving, but the other parts of the balance system say you’re not, making you dizzy.
In vertigo, something is creating a similar sensation in your vestibular system. This makes you feel as if you’re spinning when you’re not.
What Causes Vertigo?
Vertigo stems from a balance disorder where the brain receives conflicting signals about motion and position. To maintain balance, your brain relies on three primary sources: visual input, body proprioception, and the vestibular system in the inner ear. With its fluid-filled canals and sensory hair cells, the vestibular system detects motion and orientation changes. Anomalies in this system, like the lingering dizziness post-spinning, can mislead the brain into perceiving motion, setting the stage for vertigo.
Vertigo Types and Common Triggers:
Vertigo is typically classified into peripheral and central, with the former being more common and arising from bodily issues rather than brain-centric problems. Aside from TMJ, common triggers for peripheral vertigo include:
- Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV)
- Certain medications
- Physical injuries
- Vestibular nerve inflammation
- Inner ear infections or irritations
- Meniere’s disease
- Vestibular nerve compression
There aren’t always good diagnostic tools to determine the cause of vertigo. Many cases of dizziness cannot be linked to a specific cause.
How TMJ Causes Vertigo
We are not entirely clear how TMJ leads to vertigo. However, there are many potential links between the conditions. TMJ can cause excessive pressure on the temporal bone, which houses the tiny structures of the inner ear. In addition, the jaw and jaw muscles are connected to and overlap nerves that carry signals from the vestibular system to the brain. Displaced or overdeveloped jaw structures can put excessive pressure on the vestibular nerve, causing it to send distress signals to the brain, which the brain interprets as movement signals.