The jaw and the ear are more than just close to one another, they’re connected by a complex interaction of muscles, nerves, and bones. As a result, ear-related symptoms like ear pain, tinnitus (ringing, roaring, or other unexplained sounds in the ear), and vertigo are reported in nearly 80% of TMJ sufferers. However, like headaches, tinnitus is a nonspecific symptom that could be connected with life-threatening conditions, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about the condition first.
If your tinnitus is not responding to treatments your doctor recommends, please call (361) 851-8274 or email Corpus Christi TMJ dentist Dr. Don Lowrance for an appointment.
Part of the Jaw Joint
Your inner ear is really part of your jaw joint. It’s housed in the temporal bone, which is part of the temporomandibular joint. Evolutionary scientists also trace the origins of the three tiny bones in the ear to what was part of the reptilian jaw. Although their function, size, and orientation have changed, they remain intimately connected with the bones, muscles, and nerves of the jaw.
Tinnitus: The Sound of Pain
When a person has a TMJ that is in a neuromuscularly imbalanced position, the jaw joint may pinch the nerves and blood vessels in the ear, causing pain or the sensation of ringing or itching deep in the ears. The reason why some people may hear sounds rather than—or in addition to—experiencing pain is that the brain expects the vestibulocochlear nerve from the ear to be carrying sounds, so it may interpret pain signals from pinching this nerve as sounds.
Or it might be just the opposite: you’re experiencing pins and needles just like when your arm or leg falls asleep because you have sat or laid on the limb. This can happen constantly as a result of the jaw joint’s usual position, or it may happen intermittently when the jaw is in a certain position. Many (but not all) people with TMJ-related tinnitus can impact the sound they hear by adjusting the position of their jaw.
Vertigo and TMJ
Stresses from the TMJ on the ear can also cause dizziness or vertigo. The body has multiple mechanisms (vision, your muscle’s sensations of what they’re doing and their location with respect to one another, and your inner ear) to tell it when it’s moving and how. Normally, these mechanisms agree, helping us to feel stable and balanced. But when they disagree, you can experience dizziness.
The balance organ in the ear is a set of small tubes that have fluid in them. They tell your position and motion similar to the way a carpenter’s level does: the relative position of fluid and air in the tubes. Pressure on the temporal bone or the vestibulocochlear nerve can interfere with the readings, causing your brain to get confused about its position and movement.
Stresses from the ligaments that are part of the jaw joint can put pressure on the nerves in the ear and even pressure on the eardrum itself. This can also cause the feeling of stuffy or stopped up ears because the Eustachian tubes are being pinched.