Those afflicted by the chronically uncomfortable condition known as temporomandibular joint disorder (TMJ) endure multiple symptoms, some of which — including headaches, jaw pain and difficulty chewing — provide a direct link to TMJ in the presence of one another.
Other indicators, such as tinnitus, can prove more elusive but no less disruptive.
Just What is Tinnitus?
Tinnitus is a static noise in the ears. Though generally described as ringing, tinnitus can also be perceived as buzzing, hissing, or roaring.
The noise may be continuous, or come and go. Tinnitus at times may barely be noticeable, while on some occasions it may drown out external sounds and make it difficult to concentrate.
According to the Mayo Clinic’s tinnitus page, about 1 in 5 people experience tinnitus. However, tinnitus itself is not a medical condition, but rather a symptom of another problem such as age-related hearing loss or TMJ.
TMJ and Tinnitus
The relationship between TMJ and tinnitus, and why TMJ may lead to these phantom sounds, originates in the compact connective region between the jaw and skull. Within lies a tiny network of joints, muscles, nerves and bones that includes the temporomandibular joints (which serve as hinges for the jaw and provide for biting, chewing, speaking and yawning) and the trigeminal nerve (which transmits sensation throughout the face).
Jaw misalignment and bite conditions can overburden these components and send pain signals shooting throughout the face, head, neck, shoulders, and even to the arms and fingers. Thanks in part to lingering evolutionary connections between our jaw bones and ear bones, these effects may transmit to the inner ear as tinnitus.
A 1997 study, among the earliest research into the connection between tinnitus and TMJ, observed that TMJ “symptoms greatly vary from patient to patient,” but it found that nearly 40 percent of those diagnosed with TMJ reported experiencing tinnitus. From a different perspective, a 2012 study indicated that 22 percent of patients with tinnitus also complained of TMJ symptoms.
When to See a Dentist about Tinnitus
Though many questions remain about the instances and causes of tinnitus in TMJ sufferers, one thing we have learned from research is that the primary risk factors for tinnitus (being older and being male) don’t apply when TMJ is involved. Young people and women who suffer from TMJ often experience tinnitus.
The bright side is that there are comfortable treatments that can successfully relieve tinnitus and the other adverse effects of TMJ. Unfortunately, TMJ often goes undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, and the symptoms progressively worsen over time.
So when should you talk to a neuromuscular dentist about TMJ?
The American Tinnitus Association, on its managing your tinnitus page, recommends seeing a dental health professional if you experience tinnitus in addition to other TMJ indicators such as regular headaches, jaw pain, jaw sticking, difficulty chewing, or soreness in the neck and shoulders, or if previous efforts to diagnose the source of your tinnitus have failed.
Denver neuromuscular dentist Dr. Kevin Berry is dedicated to helping patients achieve lasting relief from TMJ pain. Please call the TMJ Therapy & Sleep Center of Colorado at (303) 691-0267 to schedule your appointment.