The temporomandibular joint is the connecting force between the temporal bones located in the skull and the jawbone. Without this crucial connection hinge, you would experience difficulty in moving your jaw from side to side and up and down. These movements are crucial to your ability to chew, talk, or yawn. Known as the TMJ, it is often the cause of problems with certain facial muscles or jaw functions. These are known as temporomandibular disorders, though they are sometimes confused with the acronym TMJ. It is the TMJ that can lead to certain medical conditions, and one lesser-known medical impact deals with TMJ and your ear.
What Can Cause TMD?
There are a number of symptoms that lead healthcare professionals to believe TMJ disorders originate within the various parts of the joint or the muscles contained in the jaw. Trauma to the area from a blunt force or whiplash may also be to blame for a condition. However, some individuals may develop TMD from putting excess pressure on the joint through habits of frequently clenching or grinding the teeth. Chronic stress often causes an individual to keep their facial muscles tense or their jaw clenched subconsciously. Arthritis within the joint may be a contributing factor, as can facial construction or development where there is movement of the disc between the ball and socket joint.
What Are the Common Symptoms?
Many times, the first noticeable signs of a problem are discomfort and severe pain that affects one or both sides of the face. Usually, the pain occurs when opening the mouth wide, as necessary for speaking, chewing, yawning, or other functions. It is also common to have the feeling that your jaw is stuck or locked in either the open or closed-mouth position, with popping, clicking, or grinding sounds that occur when the mouth is opening or closing. Pain may not always be present when the sounds occur, and at times, tenderness and pain may be felt in the neck and shoulders, up through the jaw joint area, around the facial muscles, and in or around the ear. Swelling is also a symptom.
What About TMJ and Ear Issues?
TMJ disorder can impact your ears and hearing. For some people, it can lead to tinnitus, ear pain, and hearing loss. The symptoms of TMJ-related hearing conditions mimic several common ear conditions, but when combined with an experience of other TMJ symptoms, it is easier to receive a more accurate diagnosis. Sounds or sensations include:
- Ringing in the ears (tinnitus)
- Decreased hearing or sounds being muffled or dampened
- Ear pain
- Popping or clicking sounds when the jaw is opened, closed, or moved
- Feelings of fullness or pressure inside the ear
The extent of your experience with these symptoms ranges in severity according to the severity of your disorder. The more severe the case of TMD, the more significant the impact it had on hearing.
Can TMJ Impact Your Hearing?
Just as the underlying causes of TMD haven’t been fully determined, physicians haven’t been able to pinpoint the exact reasons why TMD impacts hearing. There is a general consensus that inflammation or pressure caused by the TMJ blocks the eustachian tubes in the ear. If these tubes aren’t able to properly drain fluid out of the middle ear, it can lead to hearing difficulties or tinnitus. If these conditions go untreated, it can create more severe problems with damage to the inner ear and long-term hearing loss.
Can This Dysfunction Be Treated?
A doctor or dentist can generally spot TMD through a physical examination, but an audiologist or ENT may also suspect a problem with the TMJ if an individual complains of ear fullness, hearing loss, or tinnitus but doesn’t display any common signs of an ear-related condition. The diagnosis may follow after your jaw has been checked for pain, popping noises, or stiffness. Your physician may also recommend that panoramic X-rays be taken to fully see what is going on with the jaw, teeth, and facial bones.
Can TMD Be Prevented?
Since the known causes of TMD are still undetermined, the best thing you can do is treat the pain and manage your symptoms. If you experience pain when chewing or swallowing, alter your diet to include more soft foods. This alleviates some of the strain on opening the mouth wide and applying pressure. Anti-inflammatory medications may help relieve the pain, as can applying warm compresses on the areas experiencing pain. You may try alternating ice and heat to reduce inflammation or swelling. Learn stress-relieving techniques to help your body relax and stop the habit of clenching your jaw or tensing your facial muscles.
If you have been experiencing problems with tinnitus or hearing loss, the physicians at Happy Ears Hearing Center are waiting for you. Their expertise can bring comfort back to your ears and peace of mind to your heart, whether you have TMD or another condition impacting your hearing.