TMJ and tinnitus: two conditions that many people have heard of but don't associate together. What is the connection? To understand the link, it's key to first define the two separately and then evaluate what they have in common.
Tinnitus is commonly known as a "ringing in your ears" that can be caused by physical or neurological damage. This auditory condition, most often related to hearing loss, presents as noises similar to ringing, buzzing, whistling or clicking. In rare cases, other noises and levels of sound are reported, even music. The American Tinnitus Association (ATA) reports the condition affects nearly 50 million people in the United States alone. It can have a sudden onset and dissipate quickly or be chronic.
There are two types of tinnitus: subjective and objective. Subjective means the noise is only heard by the subject and is usually related to neurological or auditory reactions to the ongoing hearing loss. Objective tinnitus creates noises that are perceptible to the patient and also others nearby.
The temporomandibular joint (TMJ) acts like a sliding hinge between the lower jaw and the skull. It is a movable joint and not unlike other joints in the body, over use or dysfunction can lead to pain or breakdown in the joint or with the muscles that support it. According to the Mayo Clinic, the exact cause of TMJ disorders is not always clear, but can be attributed to teeth grinding, arthritis, injury or genetics.
TMJ and Tinnitus
The ATA classifies the connection between TMJ and tinnitus as a somatic condition caused by a physical dysfunction. The ATA describes somatic or "of the body" types aren't related to hearing loss. Dysfunction in the TMJ can affect the muscles, cartilage and ligaments surrounding the joint. The tinnitus results from the joint's close proximity to the ear, as well as the TMJ's muscles and nerves sharing some middle ear components. Often by treating the physical ailment, the tinnitus will subside. The ATA classifies this type of tinnitus represents a very small percentage of diagnosed cases.
If a TMJ disorder is suspected, a referral to a dentist or dental specialist is recommended. A comprehensive exam will be performed to check the teeth and joint utilizing intraoral and extraoral assessments as well as X-rays or scans. Often the symptoms will go away on their own with self-care, but symptoms may return. Other treatment may include realignment of the occlusion, or bite, and/or a fabrication of a splint or night guard that the patient will wear over the teeth. These treatments are considered reversible. In some cases, irreversible treatments may be necessary, such as surgery and orthodontics. These options are less common and should be considered carefully after a consultation with a dental specialist.
Self-care for TMJ disorders include simple treatment you can do at home, such as:
- Eating a soft diet
- Applying cold or hot compresses
- Taking over-the-counter pain relievers, like ibuprofen or acetaminophen
- Avoiding extreme opening of the jaw
- Practicing relaxation exercises
A soft diet and limited opening of the jaw can affect your oral hygiene and make tooth brushing difficult. Brush your teeth the best you can and supplement your oral hygiene routine with a mouthwash. For example, swish with Colgate Total Advanced Pro-Shield mouthwash, which offers 12-hour protection against germs even after drinking and eating.
Yes, TMJ and tinnitus can be connected. Relieving the symptoms of TMJ disorder may help reduce or eliminate the symptoms. Seeking the advice of a dental health professional as well as regular care will help diagnose and treat dental issues early, helping to keep your oral and overall health in tip-top shape.