Tinnitus afflicts millions of Americans each year. It’s generally connected to some sort of underlying condition, such as age-related hearing loss or some sort of ear injury. However, many Americans may be unaware that it can be connected to TMJ disorder, and could potentially be at least partially reversed with the right treatment.
Tinnitus is phantom noise, generally described as some sort of ringing in the ears that the individual encounters even though no external noise is present. Tinnitus sufferers describe the noise in a variety of ways, including hissing, clicking, buzzing and more. It very much lives on a spectrum: it can occur in one or both ears, it can come and go, and it can vary from being a minor annoyance to being so intense that it interferes with the individual’s ability to hear external sound.
Many cases of tinnitus are symptomatic of hearing loss. The inner ear, or cochlea, has tiny hairs that move when sound waves enter the ear. That movement generates electrical signals that are passed through your nerve from your ear to your brain, and the brain interprets those electrical signals as sound. But if those hairs are bent or broken – which can happen with age or if you don’t wear proper hearing protection when being exposed to loud noise – they can pass along random electrical impulses to your brain, which will cause tinnitus.
However, temporomandibular joint disorder can also be the cause. The TMJ is the joint in your jaw on either side of your head directly in front of your ears, where the lower jawbone meets the skull. Because of its placement, it can cause a number of complications with the inner ear.
- The chewing muscles are near some of the muscles that also insert into the inner ear, so any problems with those chewing muscles can be transmitted up by the inner ear and can manifest as tinnitus.
- There can be a direct connection between the ligaments that attach the jaw to the skull and one of the hearing bones inside the middle ear. Since bone is an excellent conductor of sound, ligament issues related to the bones can also present as tinnitus.
- TMD can create a number of nerve-related problems. And the nerves connecting to the TMJ have some level of connection with the nerves related to the auditory system. As a result, TMD-related nerve issues can pass electrical signals over to the inner ear as well, causing tinnitus.
To be clear, TMD may not be the sole cause of tinnitus. If a person is at risk of tinnitus due to age or pre-existing hearing damage, TMD may simply aggravate the condition. But even in these cases, treatment for TMD may reduce tinnitus, which itself could be a real improvement.