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Is Your TMJ Problem Causing Tinnitus?

Did you know that tinnitus can be caused by problems with your jaw?

Often tinnitus is associated with sensorineural hearing loss. The phantom sounds are generated by your brain due to damaged hearing sensory cells and neurons, and only you can hear it. This kind of tinnitus can be harder to completely cure, and is often treated with management strategies that include sound therapy and counseling.

A smaller percentage of tinnitus cases are caused by other underlying disorders or factors, such as ototoxic (ear-damaging) medication, metabolic or cardiovascular diseases, middle ear injuries or diseases, or tumors. In these cases, treating these underlying conditions alleviates tinnitus symptoms. Fortunately for sufferers, tinnitus associated with a temporomandibular joint disorder (TMD) falls under this second category.

The connection between TMJ and tinnitus

TMJ is the acronym for the temporomandibular joint, which is located in front of your ears where the jaw bone (mandible) connects to the temporal bone of the skull. Besides being anatomically close to the ear, it also shares some muscles and nerves with the middle ear.

For example, there is a ligament that connects the malleus, a middle ear bone, to the jaw.  Also, certain nerves serve both the jaw and the eardrum. Additionally, there is evidence that a nerve supplied from the TMJ connects to part of the brain associated with hearing. For these reasons, problems with the muscles, cartilage, and ligaments of the TMJ can lead to tinnitus.

Is your tinnitus caused by TMD?

It is important to note that the percentage of tinnitus caused by TMJ disorders is comparatively small. While only your doctor or dental specialist can diagnose TMJ-related tinnitus, sometimes the patient is also able to establish the link between the two conditions. Here are some things to try:

  • Does your tinnitus change when you chew, yawn, or cough?
  • Does your tinnitus change when you move your jaw forward or clench your teeth?
  • Does your tinnitus change when you move your neck?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is possible that underlying TMJ problems could be causing your tinnitus, and should be discussed with your doctor or dental specialist.

TMJ-related tinnitus is usually treatable

Luckily, tinnitus caused by TMJ problems often disappears when the underlying problem is resolved. If you suspect your tinnitus may be related to your TMJ, talk to your doctor or dental specialist in addition to your hearing care professional.  Once a positive relationship is established between the two conditions, they will prescribe the appropriate treatment for your specific TMJ issues.