If you’ve ever wondered – how does TMJ (temporomandibular joint) disorder cause tinnitus and hearing problems? – read on. But to understand how TMJ problems affect hearing, it’s important to first understand what TMJ is.
Perhaps the most common TMJ condition is known as “locked jaw”. The jaw joints are responsible for opening the mouth, speaking, and chewing. When these joints get damaged, your ability to perform these functions becomes limited and your jaw may feel as if it is locked. TMJ disorders can be brought on by trauma to the area or a dislocated fibrous disc that sits on the hinge joint. TMJ problems can cause pain and limit your ability to eat or even speak.
Previous studies have found a strong association between TMJ disorders and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Patients with TMJ problems are more likely to experience tinnitus, similar to individuals with a head or neck injury.
There are three main theories why TMJ disorders may result in tinnitus. The first one is based on the fact that the chewing muscles are closely situated to the inner ear muscles. The second theory implies there may be a direct connection between the ligaments attaching to the jaw and one of the hearing bones in the middle ear. Lastly, the nerve supply from the TMJ has connections with brain regions that are involved in hearing and sound processing.
The good news is, if your tinnitus is a result of the TMJ disorders, then addressing the issue may also improve your tinnitus.
There are some effective exercises you can perform with your jaw to improve your TMJ condition. For example, max opening, which involves opening your mouth as wide as possible. You can open your mouth even wider by pulling down on your chin. Do NOT complete this exercise if it causes you pain though.
You can also try opening your jaw with your fingers hooked over your lower front teeth. Slowly open the jaw, hold it open, close, and repeat a few times a day.
Performing lateral movements may also improve tinnitus. This is done by opening the jaw and shifting the jaw to the right and to the left. When in the lateral position you can apply some light pressure to push it further with your hand.
Lastly, you can do a teeth tap. This helps relieve stress and tension by tapping on your teeth while smiling.
As mentioned, to cure tinnitus associated with the TMJ disorders, you will need to focus on your TMJ. For example, you can use a custom mouthpiece, which is worn at night, to help relax the jaw muscles while you sleep.
You can also consult a dental specialist who can recommend any structural apparatuses for improving teeth and jaw bone structure through braces or a retainer, for example.
Other treatment options include reducing stress, avoiding triggers like loud noises that can worsen tinnitus, reducing alcohol consumption (alcohol increases blood flow to the ear thus worsening tinnitus), performing jaw exercises, finding a support group, educating yourself on both TMJ disorders and tinnitus, and preventing further hearing damage by keeping down the volume and maintaining good heart health.
If your tinnitus was caused by an injury, you will want to address its effects and take the appropriate steps to prevent any future damage.