Those who suffer from tinnitus understand how upsetting and confusing this condition can be. But can ringing in the ears and other tinnitus symptoms really be connected to TMJ? If your tinnitus symptoms are a result of a TMJ disorder, how can you fix it?
In most tinnitus cases, this condition is caused by hearing loss and is a phantom auditory sensation created by the brain in response to missing sound stimulation. However, tinnitus symptoms can also be caused by physical disorders elsewhere in the body, such as TMJ.
These cases are sometimes referred to as “peripheral tinnitus” meaning that the cause of tinnitus is on the periphery of the nervous system, instead of being centralized in the brain. Although uncommon, addressing the underlying physical issues in cases of peripheral tinnitus may also treat the tinnitus symptoms itself.
What is TMJ
TMJ stands for temporomandibular joint. This joint connects your jawbone to your skull, with one joint on either side of the jaw acting like a hinge. TMJ issues can arise for numerous reasons, so it can be difficult to determine the exact cause. Certain facts such as arthritis, family history, habits or injuries can cause pain in the TMJ. Even habits such as clenching your teeth or grinding your teeth while you sleep can cause pain in this area.
Generally, most TMJ issues are short-term and pain can be relieved with non-surgical treatments. There are cases where surgery is use if necessary, but it’s rare.
Symptoms of TMJ
Although TMJ symptoms vary for everyone, common TMJ symptoms include:
- Pain around your jaw, ear and/or temple
- Headaches around the temples
- Facial pain
- A clicking, popping or grinding noise when you move your jaw
- Trouble opening your mouth fully
- Your jaw locking when you open your mouth
- Worse pain when chewing and/or when stressed
- Unable to sleep properly due to the pain
Can TMJ lead to tinnitus?
As you might imagine, there is a close connection between the jaw, ears and brain, even the head and neck. This means, there is also a connection between temporomandibular joint disorders and tinnitus.
Studies have shown that people dealing with TMJ problems are much more likely to also suffer from tinnitus symptoms. In addition, individuals who have dealt with injury to the neck area may also experience tinnitus. In some instances, the individual diagnosed with TMJ or similar issue can increase the severity of their tinnitus by moving their mouth, jaw and neck.
According to the British Tinnitus Association, there are three main theories behind why issues with the temporomandibular joint may cause tinnitus or make tinnitus symptoms worse:
- The muscles responsible for chewing are near some of the muscles that connect into the middle ear and may have an impact on hearing
- The nerve supply from the TMJ has been shown to have connections with the parts of the brain that are involved with hearing and the interpretation of sound
- There is a direct connection between one of the hearing bones that sits in the middle ear and the ligaments that attach to the jaw
In short, the jaw joint, ear and brain and greatly intertwined together. An issue with one area may cause issues with the others, such as a TMJ disorder in the jaw area and worsening of tinnitus symptoms.
TMJ and Tinnitus
While there are some people who have tinnitus caused by TMJ issues, the overall percentage is very small. However, you might be able to feel a connection between certain types of movement and increased tinnitus severity. If your tinnitus changes when you chew, cough, move your jaw forward, clench your teeth or move your neck, it might be possible that your symptoms are connected to a possible TMJ disorder.
How can TMJ disorders be diagnosed?
Often times, your dentist can diagnose TMJ issues with an examination. If uncertain, your dentist may refer you for additional testing, such as using an MRI scan. Your hearing care professional may also become involved if issues with a TMJ disorder has resulted in tinnitus symptoms, or have made your tinnitus symptoms worse.
TMJ treatment options
Once you become aware of TMJ pain or discomfort, there are a few home remedies that can be utilized to reduce pain. Of course, these will only help certain TMJ disorders.
- Try to avoid eating hard food and overworking the jaw muscle – Eat soft foods and cut food into small pieces to give your jaw a break. It’s also helpful to avoid sticky food, such as chewing gum, that will overwork your jaw
- Stretching and massage – Your doctor, dentist or physical therapist can provide exercises that stretch and strengthen your jaw muscles
- Physical therapy – Your doctor or dentist may also show you how to massage the muscles yourself in an act of physical therapy to that area
- Utilize heat or cold – Applying warm, moist heat or ice to the side of your face may help reduce TMJ disorder symptoms. However, it’s important not to keep heat or cold on the area for too long
- Acupuncture – An acupuncture practitioner helps treat chronic pain by inserting tiny needles at specific locations on your body. This may also be beneficial for reducing pain from a TMJ disorder
- Mouth guard – If you are actively grinding your teeth while you sleep, your dentist or doctor may recommend wearing a mouth guard to minimize the damage
- Relaxation – Making a conscious effort to take deep, calm breaths while also relaxing your neck and face muscles may help reduce pain over time
- Painkillers – Your doctor may suggest taking certain painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen
It’s important to note that if your tinnitus is caused by a TMJ disorder, your symptoms may improve once the TMJ issue is sorted.
Exercises for TMJ pain relief
Your doctor and/or dentist will be able to provide some at-home exercises you can practice to help relieve TMJ pain. Some of these exercises include:
- Rest your tongue on the top of your mouth and allow your teeth to come apart while relaxing your jaw muscles
- With your back straight and your shoulders pulled back, pull your chin straight back, creating a “double chin” effect
- Squeeze your chin with your index finger and thumb, then close your mouth as you apply pressure on your chin.
- With your tongue on the roof of your mouth, slowly open and close your mouth.
These types of exercise can help strengthen your jaw muscles, improve jaw movement and help relieve TMJ pain.