Over 50 million Americans suffer from tinnitus, a condition that causes a temporary or permanent tone in the ear that can sound like a whistle, a roar, or a musical pitch. The number of those affected is likely much higher, as many people simply do not recognize their tinnitus as a problem. Though technology and treatment options are available to address tinnitus, it often goes unacknowledged for years until the constant sound becomes debilitating. As with almost all concerns regarding the ear and hearing, early treatment is the most effective way to combat tinnitus and prevent it from worsening.
How can my teeth cause Tinnitus?
While many things can cause tinnitus, one area often overlooked by physicians is jaw problems. The Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) 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. 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.
Over time, the stress put on the joint can lead to tinnitus symptoms that may or may not be accompanied by hearing loss. Those with arthritis or a recent jaw injury, as well as those who have a history of grinding or clenching their teeth while they sleep are all at an increased risk of developing a TMJ disorder. A Study by the Cleveland Clinic of 109 patients with tinnitus found that TMJ problems were associated 36% of the time.
How do I know if my Tinnitus is caused by my TMJ?
- 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, this demonstrates that a nerve issue, not a sensory one, has likely caused the tinnitus.
What can be done to help?
Dr. Mark Sayeg is specially trained in the treatment of TMJ disorders. He recommends a complete exam which will include checking your jaw for problems or clenching or grinding. Nearly half of those who identify as having TMJ disorders report tinnitus as one of their symptoms. Fortunately, approximately 90 percent of these patients were able to successfully reduce their tinnitus tone with a custom-made splint to reduce the pressure on your joints and let them heal.
Also, and easy home remedy is simply to relax! The physical tension treatment caused by stress and anxiety are known to worsen TMJ problems. In other cases, an ice pack or an NSAID pain reliever should provide temporary relief.